Friday, January 04, 2008

Condoms and the spread of immorality

We've all heard it, haven't we? "There must be a change in the opinion of the church regarding contraception in HIV-laden countries." Or perhaps "condoms will help our young people be more responsible and protect them from harm." Isn't it amazing how those wolves come dressed as sheep? I wonder if they get a bulk discount on their wool orders.

There is an interesting blurb in the New Oxford Review about protests angered at the idea of installing condom vending machines in one part of India. One of the arguments noted in the article is that access to condoms will “degrade women and corrupt the young.” These are Muslim women. Women! They are not so deceived as many American women to cry out for their reproductive rights and to have control over their own bodies.

Here is another great quote from the New Oxford Review article:

M.H. Jawahirullah, who heads the Muslim Progressive Party, says, 'We must fight AIDS, but these machines at public places will only promote sex outside marriage among the younger generation.'"

You know, they're right. Contraception does degrade women, corrupt the young and encourage pre-marital relations. It degrades women because it views them as something to be used - as a means for pleasure - and does not respect their person nor their body. It degrades women by allowing a man to have the utmost intimacy with her but have no commitment whatsoever (as would be given in the marital "until death do us part"). Contraception degrades women by valuing their body while disregarding their person.

It corrupts the young by essentially saying it is okay to have pre-marital relations so long as you use "protection." It makes it easier for the young to consider pre-marital relations because the main fruit of those relations, i.e. the child, is no longer a concern. If a person had to think of the possibility of a child then they may respect the act much more than to engage in it casually and without marital commitment.

Chastity and marriage, on the other hand, values the person to the utmost degree. Chastity says: "I respect you and therefore I cannot use you for my own selfish ends." Each spouse, in marriage, says "I will be faithful to you, to love you, until death do us part." While it is true that either spouse can be used within the marital state, and that is still a danger for fallen man to overcome, the commitment leads to respect of the person. By saying that your entire lives are not enjoined, as one flesh, then both individuals are respected. They are so worthwhile that each spouses intends to spend the rest of their earthly existence giving themselves only to this one person. So long as contraception does not enter into marriage, and the primacy of reproduction is maintained, then relations have a lesser chance of denigrating into use because the act is not engaged apart from reason. It cannot be denied however that the desire for selfish use is still a temptation - and each spouse must struggle against it, by grace - but there is nothing inherent that would aim toward selfish use as is the case when contraception is employed.

While many of the wolves in our own Church have said that an allowance needs to be made for contraception in the case of HIV/AIDS, the true shepherds do not waver. What is the answer for the plague of HIV/AIDS? Chastity. It is little wonder that God would punish someone for their sins. That is why we believe there is a hell for those who do not repent and come to the mercy of Christ. That is why our Sacred Scriptures tell us that God chastises those He loves, not because He has an eye at watching them suffer but because His desire is for their repentance.

While many in our country attack Muslims as evil because of the terrorism caused by a radical minority, the fact remains that on many moral issues they surpass many Americans. They do not condone abortion or contraception. If only Americans would cry out as fiercely as these Muslims and if only our leaders, our entire country, would see the truth and turn from the error of their evil ways. God is merciful, loving and forgiving when we return to Him in repentance and genuine contrition.

May our country, by the grace of God, stop the degradation of women, the corruption of youth and the encouragement to immorality that comes from a contraceptive mentality.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Papal teaching on gender roles in the married state

Over at The God Fearin' Forum, a small discussion exists in the comments about the difference between Pius XI's (in the encyclical Casti Connubii) and John Paul II's (in the apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem as well as in his Theology of the Body audiences) teaching on gender roles in the married state. It is a very, very interesting issue to me - particularly because I read a lot of these sources when writing my undergraduate thesis. Let's examine the question in brief.

26. Domestic society being confirmed, therefore, by this bond of love, there should flourish in it that "order of love," as St. Augustine calls it. This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and children, the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience, which the Apostle commends in these words: "Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ is the head of the Church."[29]

27. This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.

28. Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact .

29. With great wisdom Our predecessor Leo XIII, of happy memory, in the Encyclical on Christian marriage which We have already mentioned, speaking of this order to be maintained between man and wife, teaches: "The man is the ruler of the family, and the head of the woman; but because she is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone, let her be subject and obedient to the man, not as a servant but as a companion, so that nothing be lacking of honor or of dignity in the obedience which she pays. Let divine charity be the constant guide of their mutual relations, both in him who rules and in her who obeys, since each bears the image, the one of Christ, the other of the Church."[30]

Most modern dwellers are shocked to read the above quote and it is a sad indictment indeed - their mourning that is, not the truth of the quote. It is clear above that this Catholic teaching is reflected in the Papal teaching of both Pius XI and Leo XIII. There is no novelty. There is nothing new to see here. It is traditional Catholic teaching. Pius XI explains it very well. The family, being as it is a society, must follow an order of love with the husband as the head and the wife submitted to his leadership. He is quick to note what this headship does not entail: it does not take away in any way the dignity of the woman which must be always held in high regard, nor does it mean she is to obey his every command (if it be not in accord with right reason or her dignity), nor does it lessen the fact that if the husband should fail his duty the wife may take over for the good of the family. Just as secular society must be ordered, with an authoritative head to keep it in order, so too the domestic family.

Who can miss the beauty and force of Pius XI's teaching, succinctly put in the following passage: "it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love." That is the essence of it: both the head and the heart, functioning properly in their own capacities, are necessary to keep the family healthy.

Now may we turn to John Paul II's apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem:

24. The text is addressed to the spouses as real women and men. It reminds them of the "ethos" of spousal love which goes back to the divine institution of marriage from the "beginning". Corresponding to the truth of this institution is the exhortation: "Husbands, love your wives", love them because of that special and unique bond whereby in marriage a man and a woman become "one flesh" (Gen 2:24; Eph 5:31). In this love there is a fundamental affirmation of the woman as a person. This affirmation makes it possible for the female personality to develop fully and be enriched. This is precisely the way Christ acts as the bridegroom of the Church; he desires that she be "in splendour, without spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5:27). One can say that this fully captures the whole "style" of Christ in dealing with women. Husbands should make their own the elements of this style in regard to their wives; analogously, all men should do the same in regard to women in every situation. In this way both men and women bring about "the sincere gift of self".

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees no contradiction between an exhortation formulated in this way and the words: "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife" (5:22-23). The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a "mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ" (cf. Eph 5:21). This is especially true because the husband is called the "head" of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give "himself up for her" (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the "subjection" is not one-sided but mutual.

It is important to keep John Paul II's main focus in content. His emphasis is the Apostle's emphasis on love. The former-Pontiff states: "It reminds them of the 'ethos' of spousal love which goes back to the divine institution of marriage from the 'beginning'." In the following paragraph he refers to "a 'mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ' (cf. Eph 5:21)." One of the greatest problems here is that he does not develop this phrase. In addition, it is in quotes and appears to find a basis in Ephesians 5:21, which states "Being subject one to another, in the fear of Christ." This mutual subjection may be fine if understood that in some sense the husband enacts this subjection by being subject to the wife in her capacity as heart of the family (which in no way means he is not the head of the family). However John Paul II never develops this aspect in depth or necessary clarity.

We come now to the problematic reference in Mulieris Dignitatem when compared to Pius XI's and Leo XIII's teaching: "However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the 'subjection' is not one-sided but mutual." One of the greatest difficulties here is the fact that the Apostle is using the relationship of Christ to the Church as a parallel to the husband and his wife. When John Paul II says that this parallel breaks down, it makes one wonder why the Apostle would use such an imperfect analogy.

On the other hand, the teaching of Pius XI and Leo XIII - that the husband is the head, the wife the heart, in the order of love in the domestic society of the family - fits quite well with the teaching of the Apostle in Ephesians 5. Just as Christ is head of the Church, so too the husband is head of the wife and his family - which includes, mind you, that he must be willing to give himself up for her, out of love for her. He must always love her. Just as the Church, led by Christ, must nourish her members and bring them to full stature in Christ so must the wife nourish and raise her family in love.

It is safe to say that John Paul II is emphasizing Ephesians 5:21 as a key to interpreting the entire passage. It is true that in the love due to each person we ought to be subject to each other. However, it appears John Paul II takes this idea a bit too far. The mutual subjection that we owe to one another out of reverence for Christ must be understood properly with the analogy the Apostle gives of Christ and the Church. This mutual subjection out of love cannot negate the order necessary in the family. What the Apostle says after Ephesians 5:21 must be understood in conjunction with it rather than negated by it in any way. John Paul II never does say that Ephesians 5:21 negates the teaching of verse 24 ("Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things") nor could he. It is more likely he is including a further dimension, that in some way the husband is subject to his wife insofar as we are all to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ, the principle found in 5:21.

One of the greatest difficulties here is that John Paul II's teaching is not entirely clear. A variety of ideas could be construed from the paragraphs in Mulieris Dignitatem. At very least we can say that in a world of great confusion, especially in the family, this ambiguity only makes it more difficult to know the true teaching on the order of love in the family. The idea of "mutual subjection" sounds as if the authority of the husband has been discounted and both parties are equal in regard to authority. The idea of equality in authority only leads to chaos and anarchy in the family where there is no clear head leading the way. It also discounts the mother's role as the heart of the family, leading women to disregard their role in raising the family in love in favor of handling other concerns.

One final point, the teaching of John Paul II came in the form of an apostolic letter rather than an encyclical. The teaching of Pius XI and Leo XIII must hold greater sway, coming in the form of two encyclicals which taught in one accord and in full agreement with the tradition before them beginning with the Apostle. We can learn from John Paul II's emphasis on the mutual subjection we all owe to one another in Christ, based on Ephesians 5:21, but we must always understand it without disregarding the husband as head and wife as heart in the family's order of love.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

In the fullness of time, Christ comes to us

"While all things were in quiet silence and the night was in the midst of her course," explains the Introit in the traditional Latin liturgy, "Thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven from Thy royal throne." The Nativity of Our Lord, His glorious day of birth we celebrate, occured at the fullness of time according to Divine Providence. During this liturgical season, we are often quite aware of the details surrounding Christ's birth but yet fail to realize their significance for our lives today. We all face darkness - the darkness of sinfulness yet overcome, the darkness we find at times in prayer or the darkness we see in the world around us. The circumstances of Our Savior's birth has much to teach us about God's will to vanquish the darkness found in all of our lives.

One of the important aspects mentioned in the Introit above is darkness: "the night was in the midst of her course." This darkness is first of all spiritual darkness - that darkness into which we are all born. It is the darkness of sin. One of the principle effects of the fall in the Garden of Eden was the darkening of our intellect. We do not see clearly. The truth often evades us. Left to our own devices, we err. Our mind fails to know the truth, devoid of grace, while our weakened will cannot do the good that we do understand. Every member of humanity suffers under this darkness because of the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. While much time had passed since the fall, the darkness was "in the midst of her course." The dawn had yet to break. Mankind was still lost in the darkness of sin and error, captive to satan.

One of our holy and blessed spiritual fathers had touched on the silence and darkness into which the Word came. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, suffered his martyrdom during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan in 98-117 A.D.[1]. In his letter to the Ephesians, Ignatius mentions "three secrets crying to be told, but wrought in God's silence"[2]. He states:

"Now, Mary's virginity and her giving birth escaped the notice of the prince of this world, as did the Lord's death - those three secrets crying to be told, but wrought in God's silence. How, then, were they revealed to the ages? A star shone in heaven brighter than all the stars. Its light was indescribable and its novelty caused amazement. The rest of the stars, along with the sun and the moon, formed a ring around it; yet it outshone them all, and there was bewilderment whence this unique novelty had arisen. As a result all magic lost its power and all witchcraft ceased. Ignorance was done away with, and the ancient kingdom [of evil] was utterly destroyed, for God was revealing himself as a man, to bring newness of eternal life. What God had prepared was now beginning. Hence everything was in confusion as the destruction of death was being taken in hand"[3].

Before the birth of Christ our Savior, the kingdom of darkness ruled. Nothing appeared to be changing. Everything remained the same. Satan had no reason to believe his rule of darkness would come to a definitive end. Yet in the midst of this silence - that silence that gave no warning of coming to an end - God became man. When it appeared all was lost the "almighty Word [...] leaped down from heaven from [His] royal throne," to borrow words from the Introit. Light broke into the overwhelming darkness: "The people that sat in darkness, hath seen great light: and to them that sat in the region of the shadow of death, light is sprung up" (Matthew 4:16). Who are the people who found sitting in darkness but each one of us, once in the darkness of sin and death but now ransomed from it by Christ in Holy Baptism? Christ is still the light shining in our darkness as we struggle to allow Him to more completely illuminate our soul.

While the primary interpretation of the silence and darkness relates to the Incarnate whereby the Son of God Himself descended from His glory to set us free from the shackles of sin and death, a secondary spiritual application applies to our everyday life. Very often we find ourselves in a state where we cannot see or hear God. He is silent. We're surrounding by darkness. More often then not it seems as if He has abandoned us, left us, and no longer takes concern for us. This silence and darkness may be found when we attempt prayer or when we ask for His assistance but see no apparent answer. We may wait days, weeks or months for His intervention only to find ourselves feeling alone.

We can all derive great comfort from the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord. All of creation sat in darkness, still bound under the power of satan. There was no hope of salvation for us, sinners all. In terms of temporal concerns, Israel found itself under the heavy yoke of Roman oppression. Two thousand years later we still understand. We yet battle against the powers of darkness, of sin, in our own members. The modern world is often against all we believe. We may have recourse to prayer only to experience abandonment, seemingly alone. The cry of the Psalmist echos in our night: "We are become a reproach to our neighbours: a scorn and derision to them that are round about us. How long, O Lord, wilt thou be angry for ever: shall thy zeal be kindled like a fire?" (Psalm 78:4-5)

Our faith however must be strong. The Nativity of Our Lord, which we celebrate, teaches us that God will never leave us nor forsake us. In our moments of darkness, in times when God is silent, He looks upon us in love. We may not understand His will in the moment but we can rest assured that He is caring for us just as much as He cared for a world in darkness before He sent His Word for their salvation. As the Apostle says, "when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law: That he might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). In the glorious mystery of Divine Providence, we do not always see God at work but He is always with us.

First and foremost we must rejoice in the fact that God sent His Son, at the perfect time, to adopt us as Sons. He has set us free from sin, darkness and death. Secondarily, however, we must realize that He still comes to us at "the fulness of the time." We may find ourselves lost in darkness in our prayer life or in our temporal concerns, but God continues to care for us in the darkness. He will shine His glorious light to us, to help and save us, at the perfect time - that perfect time which is known to God in His infinite wisdom but often escapes us in our finite limitation. As His adopted sons, we are never forsaken. That is the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, that glorious birth wrought in the silence and darkness but coming at the fullness of time. Our Lord always comes to save us at the perfect time even though we find ourselves lost in the silence and darkness. May we have a strong faith, always trusting in the goodness of Our Lord Who comes to save us in His love for us.

1. Cyril C. Richardson Ed., "Early Christian Fathers" (New York, NY: Touchstone, 1996), 75.

2. Ibid., 93.

3. Ibid., 93.