Friday, December 24, 2010

Why is the incarnation (God fully entering the human condition) such a big deal?
Who benefits from this relationship, and how?
Why us?
What difference does it make in my life? Our life? What makes this Good News?

These are last week’s questions, for today’s answers. We’ve left Advent and moved into the Christmas season, so the timing is good. We’ve established that the Good News of Jesus is that God wants to be in communion with us, as one of us. We’ve also established that why God would want that makes no sense to us. So, that’s where we start-- with what we do not understand.

To know and accept that we do not know is why and how we begin our spiritual journey. We want to know whatever we know we do not know. At least, we figure, we should push understanding as far as we can. When we arrive at the place of not knowing, we are ready. First, we try to list what we know we do not know. Here’s my attempt:

I do not fully know God,
· I do not fully know God’s ways,
· I do not know what is beyond what I do know and
· I do not know why God seems so mysterious at times.

Of course, there are more than just those things, but they are ok for a start. By naming what I do not know, I move into the realm of the unknowing. Not very far in, but in, where I can begin to say what I do know and/or believe about what I do not fully know. Obviously, with my list, I believe that there is a God; I understand that God is really and truly “Other,” even more than anyone else I know is other; I know God has a realm—a place or state of being; I know how I would act if I were God, but not much about God’s own actions.

How are any of us to go any further once we hit the wall of not knowing? Left to ourselves, we speculate, imagine, argue and go in circles, never going any deeper. We cry out to God: “Help us to understand! Save us from our ignorance.” But God is so much other that if God were to answer, we would neither hear nor understand. So, the Incarnation. In order to save us from our ignorance, which causes separation (sin) between God and ourselves, God takes on the only nature we really understand at all: ours! We move toward the answers in human form, (knowing that there is still more) and we live according to what we have learned, (if we so choose). Paraphrasing the very old Baltimore catechism, we grow in knowing, loving and serving God in this world, and enter into the place where all is known, all are served and do the serving, all is loved, understood and lived out, aka heaven. God became human so humans could approach the divine. Good News indeed! Thank you, Jesus, and Happy Birthday.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Words seeking flesh

With Christmas drawing near, I'm sharing the first of this year's thoughts on what's going on. Not at the shopping malls, but in the cosmos--reflections on incarnation:

Need I begin by saying that the incarnation has nothing to do with flowers? No, probably not. Anyone who has been around church-like things knows that it has something to do with Jesus, even if they don’t know exactly what. So let’s break the word apart. In carnis: in the flesh. Mix in a little God and we have God in flesh, or the central mystery of Christianity—God's divine nature is fully present in human nature. Or human nature is fully present in God’s divine nature.
How would we explain this major article of our faith to someone who has no knowledge of religion or, at least, Christianity? Why should such a person even care, much less receive it as Good News? The message is that “God so loved the world” that God entered the world to become one with the world, through human nature—who we are. That’s nice, yet there are species and natures in the world that are much nicer than we are. We cause wars. We consume beyond our need. We discriminate unfairly. We are hard to satisfy and too judgmental to be satisfied. We look down on others, even others of our own species. We compete. We hate. We hurt. We take. We are rarely satisfied. God so loved this?
I suppose that if a well-known leader like President Obama or Pope Benedict were to come to me and say, “I want you as my best friend,” I’d be flattered. I’d also be suspicious. “Are you sure you mean me? Even my friends can only take so much of me. I know myself. Why me?” It would make no sense to me, but I would sure work hard at being the best friend I could be, knowing full well that I had done nothing to earn the privilege. Still, it would really be strange.
God wants to be one of us, one with us? Is God no better than us. Tthe Old Testament does make God look pretty unstable at times—happy one day, foolish the next, needing anger management the third, etc.? We work so hard trying to be God, and God wants to be us? Is not even God ever satisfied? What is in it for God, and what is in it for us? These are human questions—at least among the one’s this human would have.
There is great danger in attributing to God only those human characteristics with which we are familiar. I suspect there is more to God than that. Heck, there is more to us than that! In becoming one with us, through the human Jesus, we are invited to be what we cannot even conceive of being, without loosing our humanness.
So, some questions. Let us reflect on them during the third week of Advent, and try to answer some of them during the fourth:

Why is the incarnation (God fully entering the human condition) such a big deal?
Who benefits from this relationship, and how?
Why us?
What difference does it make in my life? Our life? What makes this Good News?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

From Lorenz:

I think the Church finally said what most people think: if you have
AIDS and are going to have sex, use a condom.

At the same time, you can still say it's better to be open to life and
in marriage--and that's about all we can take from this.

And that's it. Benedict will tell us if he has anything else to say;
until then, it's speculation, obsession and joining the media frenzy.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Papal Confusion, Part II

Part II

In part one of this reflection, I state my confusion at the Pope's statement about the use of a condom by a male prostitute. At first glance, I saw him being morally relativistic, suggesting that some evils are better than others. But on reflection, I now see that he might be publicly revealing an essential truth of Catholic morality that has been taught, mostly, behind closed doors.

The teaching has always been that the final arbiter in moral decision-making is the individual conscience. Its steps are simple: for each person, moral development is an ongoing process; at one stage of development, an individual might not be morally responsible, even for an intrinsically evil act. At a later stage, however, that same person could be morally culpable. An example: A child of five years old finds a gun and begins to play with it. It is loaded and goes off, killing a playmate. The child is not a murderer. But that child’s father is playing with the same gun, knowing it might still have a bullet or two in it. He aims at his child, pretending to shoot. The gun goes off and the child is killed. It was not his intention to kill the child. Does he bear more moral responsibility than the five year old who shot his friend? Most likely, because he is more mature in his decision-making, and was irresponsible for playing with the gun in the first place. Action that results in unintended consequences is evaluated not by he action itself, but by the degree of moral development the actor has achieved.

Or to use the Pope’s example: a young male who has been sexually abused since early childhood has learned that sex is a commodity. He knows nothing of love, but knows what gives pleasure and warrants reward. So he sells his sexuality on the streets to anyone who will pay the price. As a male prostitute, he hears about sexually transmitted diseases and makes two decisions: one is to protect himself; the other is to protect his customers. He uses a condom and insists that his customers do the same. Are his actions moral? Is there a moral way to do an immoral thing? The pope is saying that by using a condom, the prostitute is manifesting an incipient awareness of moral responsibility. He has not gone very far in his moral development, but has taken a first step—had a spiritual awakening. Perhaps nothing he is doing is intrinsically moral, but his culpability is limited by his moral awareness, which was greatly retarded during the abuse of his youth and adolescence.

These sorts of distinctions are usually made at the level of the local Church. The teaching church usually lays out the principles and the pastoring church applies them. That’s where the confusion comes in, for me. The pope’s statement is pastoral rather than magisterial. He is not presenting the highest ideal in this case, but applying a moral principle to the reality of an individual’s life and circumstances, which is a major responsibility of a pastor. The confusion is not caused by the Pope’s taking this unusual step; it is caused by the rarity of Pope’s doing so!

The customary role of the moral theologian is to present what would be true under ideal circumstances. The role of the pastoral theologian is to acknowledge that ideal circumstances rarely exist and to help those s/he pastors to make the best moral decision they can under the circumstances they face. So a male prostitute decides to use a condom. The pastor works with that person to increase his moral awareness, in the hope of his moving beyond his circumstances o a realization of the morality of his life-style. But neither the pope and bishops who teach the ideal nor the pastor who leads people towards it have any right to impose behavior on or even to judge a person who has made the best decision he or she can, given the state of development of their moral conscience. The goal is to increase a morally consciousness, not to control behavior and punish those who deviate from he moral ideal. Moral teachings reveal humanity in a perfect, ideal reality. They are not laws that must be followed, under pain of eternal punishment, but ideals toward which the entire church strives. If that were kept less secretive, the Pope’s message would not confuse anyone. I wonder how far he’ll go at opening the door and keeping it open.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

No poor people are suffering

What a wonderful rose colored world is Mr. Beck's.  What a hard, hard heart!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Response to confusion

"So I read your blog and I must admit I am feeling confused by a lot as well. One thing I've been a bit confused about, and I've been wondering this since WYD is what about a married couple that isn't financially capable of bringing a new child into this world, should they remain abstinent rather than use contraceptives? I agree with what you were saying however about how can it be more immoral for a married couple to use protection than a male prostitute. Also, is it only "ok" in the Pope's eyes to use a condom when it's a male prostitute with another male, considering in such an act there couldn't be a result of pregnancy? Many questions"