Tuesday, December 20, 2011

7. The way that leads to life

This post is about the sixth and last section of Theology of the Body (highlighted):    
      Part 1: Who Are We? Establishing an Adequate Anthropology

         Cycle 1: Original Man
         Cycle 2: Historical Man 
         Cycle 3: Eschatological Man
      Part 2: How Are We to Live? Applying an Adequate Anthropology
         Cycle 4: Christ and the Church

         Cycle 5: The Dimension of Sign    
         Cycle 6: Love and Fruitfulness (Catecheses 118-133)

     If you understand Christianity, you know that it's a journey, not an immediate solution as many "instant happiness" religions promise. It's a difficult journey.... there is a cross at the center of Christian theology and the founder of the religion suffered quite a bit.
     However, if you understand Christianity, you also know that the cross is a triumph over death, not the failure it appears to be for human reasoning. The resurrection shapes the whole meaning of the cross. Likewise, although the Christian's journey is difficult, sometimes evenly humanly impossible, Christ's yoke is light and sweet. It may seem hard at first but it's actually "easier" than the apparently "easy ways out" that the world offers of instant gratification that only bring long-term suffering. "The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life..."
     This being said, the objections to the Church's teaching against contraception aren't really about "contradictions" in this teaching, which has been consistent over time and which has deep biblical and theological roots, which TOB shows, but rather the objections are about its difficulty. Is it very difficult for couples not to use artifical contraception? Is it a yoke and burden? Does it seem humanly impossible even? Yes, yes and yes! Yet on this subject, just like in the broader picture of our faith, the Christian way seems very difficult, opposite the "easier" way the world offers, but again Christ's hoke is actually light and sweet. And really the other way isn't light or sweet at all... it just presents itself that way. The way that leads to life is hard, but the other way only leads to death.
     In the sixth and very last chapter of Theology of the Body, John Paul II looks back and the long and deep reflection he's made on Christ's words about who we are and what we're created to be and connects it to Paul VI's encyclical "Humanae Vitae". As John Paul II says, this final part "is not artificially added to the whole" of TOB, but "it is from this topic [Humanae Vitae, artificial contraception] that the questions spring that run in some way through the whole of our reflections" (TOB 133:4). Humanae Vitae (HV) was a short encyclical giving the practical and pastoral reasons the Church condemns the use of artificial contraception, while TOB is a long, detailed explanation giving the biblical and theological reasons the Church condemns contraception.
     Some key reasons from this laster chapter, which arise from the the rest of the work, are the following:
  • The Church has the right to interpret God's Word, it's actually her mission, and does so for Catholics especially, but also for all humanity, for the good of man and his happiness: "Those who believe that the Council and the encyclical do not sufficiently take into account the difficulties of concrete life do not understand the pastoral concern that stood at the origin of these documents. Pastoral concern means seeking the true good of man, promoting the values impressed by God in the human person; that is, it signifies applying the 'rule of understanding,' which aims at the ever clearer discovery of God's plan for human love, in the certainty that the one and only true good of the human person consists in putting this divine plan into practice." (TOB 120:6)
  • The Church's teaching on contraception isn't confined to Humanae Vitae, but is in conformity with 2000 years of interpretation of Sacred Scripture, is referred to in Vatican II and was confirmed by the exhortation Familiaris Consortio, fruit of the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the topic of marriage and the family: "And the Council adds, 'Relying on these principles, children of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church' (Gaudium et Spes, 51)" (TOB 121:1)
  • It's NOT the same to use natural methods or artificial contraception, there is an intrinsically ethical difference: "The encyclical highlights especially that 'there is an essential difference,' that is, a difference of an ethical nature, between the two cases. 'In the former [that is, 'making use of the infertile period'], the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter [that is, 'the use of means which directly prevent conception'], they impede the development of natural processes' (HV 16). Two actions flow from this difference that have, in fact, completely opposite ethical qualifications: the natural regulation of fertility is morally right; contraception is not morally right." (TOB 122:2)
  • Our body isn't a "field of reactions" (TOB 123:2) that we have to dominate/control with technology, but rather what we choose to do with our bodies expresses who we are. "Man is person precisely because he possesses himself and has domination over himself. Indeed, inasmuch as he is master over himself he can 'give himself' to another." (TOB 123:5)
  • Everything on earth was created for man... we can use a cow, we can use trees and raw materials... but man is never to be an object and is never to be used. The issue of the use of technology related to birth control is much wider than we might think... it's about how we use technology and how that interferes with man's freedom and self-mastery. "In Humanae Vitae, Paul VI expressed what many authoritative moralists and scientist, including non-Catholics, affirmed elsewhere, namely, precisely that in this field, which is so deeply and essentially human and personal, one must before all else look toward the human being as a person, toward the subject who decides about himself or herself, andnot toward the 'means' that turn him into an 'object' (of manipulations) and 'depersonalize' him. What is at stake here is an authentically 'humanistic' meaning of the development and progress of human civilization." (TOB 129:2)
  • God writes his plan in the order of nature and natural methods work with that, instead of against it: "As a rational and free being, man can and should reread with insight the biological rhythm that belongs to the natural order. He can and should conform himself to it for the sake of exercising 'responsible fatherhood and motherhood,' which is inscribed according to the Creator's plan in the natural order of human fruitfulness... One should keep in mind that the 'body speaks' not only with the whole outer expression of masculinity and femininity, but also with the inner structures of the organism, of somatic and psychosomatic reactivity." (TOB 125:1)
  • Many factors should be taken into account by the couple when determining the just level of births in their family: "This just level needs to be set by taking into account not only the good of one's family and the state of one's health as well as the means of the spouses themselves, but also the good of society to which they belong, the good of the Church, and even of humanity as a whole." (TOB 125:3)
  • Using natural methods is "more difficult" than contraception... "We do not at all intend to hide the sometimes serious difficulties inherent in the life of Christian married persons; for them as for everyone else, 'the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life.' But the hope of that life must illuminate their way, as with courage they strive to live with wisdom, justice, and piety in this present time, knowing that the figure of this world passes away' (HV 25)." (TOB 126:4)
  • ...but love is a "power given to the human person to participate in the love with which God himself loves in the mystery of creation and redemption." (TOB 127:1)
  • It's not about repressing desires, but about learning to correctly orient them: "...see in the virtue of continence not only the ability to 'contain' bodily and sensual reactions, but even more the ability to control and guide the whole sensual and emotive sphere of the human person. In the case under discussion, it is a question of the ability both to direct the line of arousal toward its correct development, and also to direct the line of emotion by orienting it toward the deepening and inner intensification of its 'pure' and, in a certain sense, 'disinterested' character." (TOB 130:1; "This freedom presupposes that one is able to direct sensual and emotive reactions in order to allow the gift of self to the other 'I' one the basis of the mature possession of one's own 'I' in its bodily and emotive subjectivity." (TOB 130:4)
  • Natural methods help develop true conjugal spirituality: "When he goes on to characterize the specifically moral values of the 'natural' (that is, honorable or morally right) regulation of births, the author of Humanae Vitae writes as follows: 'Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention to one's partner, helps the spouses to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility' (HV 21)." (TOB 125:6)
  • "Chastity means living in the order of the heart" (TOB 131:1) and living conjugal chastity = living by the Spirit. This helps affective manifestations develop in the correct way: "The attitude of reverence for the work of God, which the Spirit stirs up in the spouses, has an enormous significance for those 'affective manifestations,' because it goes hand in hand with the capacity for profound pleasure in, admiration for, disinterested attention to the 'visible' and at the same time 'invisible' beauty of femininity and masculinity, and finally a profound appreciation for the disinterested gift of the 'other.'" (TOB 132:4); "Through 'affective manifestations,' the spouses help each other to remain within the union, and at the same time these 'manifestations' protect in each of them that 'deep-rooted peace', which is in some way the inner resonance of chastity guided by the gift of reverence for what God has created. This gift brings with it a deep and all-encompassing attention to the person in his or her masculinity or femininity, thus creating the interior climate suitable for personal communion." (TOB 132:5)

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