Friday, April 28, 2006

Pope Benedict's Address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences

Today, in the Vatican press releases, Pope Benedict's message to the Mary Ann Glendon, President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is printed. This Pontifical Academy is meeting for its Twelfth Plenary Session to discuss the theme: Vanishing Youth? Solidarity with Children and Young People in an Age of Turbulence. You can find the full address here. I want to focus on just a few excerpts, which flow nicely with my previous post on the influence of parents in the discovery of God and particularly the role of love in influencing the lives of young people.

Pope Benedict writes:

"To bring children into the world calls for self-centred eros to be fulfilled in a creative agape rooted in generosity and marked by trust and hope in the future. By its nature, love looks to the eternal (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 6)....

It is children and young people who are often the first to experience the consequences of this eclipse of love and hope. Often, instead of feeling loved and cherished, they appear to be merely tolerated. In 'an age of turbulence' they frequently lack adequate moral guidance from the adult world, to the serious detriment of their intellectual and spiritual development. Many children now grow up in a society which is forgetful of God and of the innate dignity of the human person made in God’s image. In a world shaped by the accelerating processes of globalization, they are often exposed solely to materialistic visions of the universe, of life and human fulfillment.
" (emphasis added)

The Pope articulates several points really well. First he talks about the love necessary to bring forth new life into this world. Second, he talks about the failure of parents to love their children adequately. Children are not receiving the love and attention needed to be capable of living in this turbulent age. Third, he points to the consequences of such failures in that children lack "adequate moral guidance from the adult world" which affects not only their intellectual development but their spiritual development as well. Without the love which forms the lives of the young, the mind and the soul lack what truly is needed to sustain itself. Finally, he ties all this together with what effects this lack of love has own the world. We live in a world that "is forgetful of God" and forgetful of man's origins - being made in God's image. Instead, man is but material to be shaped and forged by his own will. And everything to be pursued in this life, according to materialist, are things to make us happy. We have become makers of our own destinies and happiness, in such a world.

But all is not lost, Pope Benedict argues:

"Yet children and young people are by nature receptive, generous, idealistic and open to transcendence. They need above all else to be exposed to love and to develop in a healthy human ecology, where they can come to realize that they have not been cast into the world by chance, but through a gift that is part of God’s loving plan. Parents, educators and community leaders, if they are to be faithful to their own calling, can never renounce their duty to set before children and young people the task of choosing a life project directed towards authentic happiness, one capable of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, good and evil, justice and injustice, the real world and the world of 'virtual reality.'"

Pope Benedict alludes to the ability of young people to be open to transcedence, and parents need to expose their children to love in which these young ones can come to realize their place in God's plan. All this is necessary for young people to be directed towards "authentic happiness" in which they recognize truth, goodness, justice, and the real world, and in turn the young can reject falsehood, evil, injustice, and virtual reality. It is the responsibility of not only parents, but educators and community leaders to help direct young people towards this "authentic happiness" which lies in God, God alone who is love.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Discovering God

In the three months of experiences since my daughter Cecilia was born, I have learned some very powerful testimony concerning the discovery of God. There were some frustrating times during that first week with Cecilia. Talk about a major learning curve for a new father and a new mother. It must have been during the first two or three weeks at home with Cecilia that I was struck with an insight about God. During one of the whispered conversations with my wife at night (whispered because Cecilia sleeps in our bed), I said that seeing Cecilia completely dependent upon my wife for most of her needs, I cannot help but draw a very powerful connection between a mother and a newborn in that the mother is the face of God to this new and precious life.

Think about it for a minute. The newborn needs nourishment, comfort, a feeling of security, cleaning, etc. This young daughter of mine is competely dependent upon us, her parents. And from her parents, she gets everything she needs to live and be well. To provide for her, we act in a manner like God. Does not God gives us what we need: comfort, security, the nourishment from the Eucharist, and the cleansing away of sins? Very inchoately, this child of God takes in new feelings and thoughts about her place in the world. She knows who will take care of her in her moments of needs and distress. You can sense that because she does not want to be with other people; she wants always to be with her parents, especially her mother. Some have told us that we spoil her too much with our attention because she always wants to be held by us; I respond by saying that we are showing her the love she needs, and in the future, she will know who she can trust and depend upon for anything in life. In these moments you are, in a sense, God for her. Her recognition and love of God begins in what we do for her now. And through our own love and selflessness, she is beginning to see the love of God Himself through the care given to her.

To care for an infant, you have to lose yourself and give of yourself completely to this new life. This new life depends upon you for everything! Seeing my wife take care of Cecilia has given me this great insight into the powerful witness of a mother's love and how that mother's love is the very love of God for the new precious life, awakening a day in which she will encounter God for herself. Hans Urs von Balthasar comes close to such an appraisal of a mother's care for her child in his discussion of this analogy concerning Trinitarian relationship between Father and Son (I don't remember the exact place but it was in a translated article I read way back when in Systematic Theology).

If only more women and men realized the beauty and majesty found in the care and love poured out to a new life - that you can be the very face of God in your tender care and outpouring of love. Because it is in these moments that the newborn comes to love and know what love means. To be the face of God everyday, every moment is not an easy task. It takes God's grace to be that everyday. Sure, there are moments of struggle and difficulty, and when you think things are getting worse, but you have to remember to rely upon God for His strength and to refocus yourself because a young soul needs you and your support.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

HIV and Condoms or the Lesser Evil Defense

I want to discuss a topic that recently popped up in the media, namely, the morality or immorality of using condoms within a marriage where one of the spouses has HIV. I begin with an article from National Catholic Reporter website, John Allen's The Word From Rome column for April 21, 2006. You can find the article here. It has a section concerning comments from Cardinal Martini, former archbishop of Milan, advocating condoms for this reason. "Certainly the use of prophylactics can, in some situations, constitute a lesser evil." And Martini also says, "The question is really if it's wise for religious authorities to propagandize in favor of this method of defense [from HIV/AIDS], almost implying that other morally sustainable means, including abstinence, are put on a lower level."

To back up Martini's opinion, Allen includes another section of his column to other prominent theologians and bishops who back this approach. And finally, Allen adds another opinion from "Msgr. Angel Rodriguez Luño, an Opus Dei priest, a professor at Santa Croce University in Rome, and a consultor for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith," who "has said there's actually not much debate over the theology; most moralists, he said, believe the argument for condoms as a lesser evil is fairly clear. The question is how to explain that conclusion in a way that doesn't seem to offer a free pass for irresponsible sexual behavior."

Where to begin dismantling these responses? Clearly we are not talking about material cooperation with evil in the situation of a married couple who decides to use a condom because one of the spouses has HIV. Here in such a situation, there is formal cooperation with evil in destroying the meaning inherent in the conjugal act via a condom. The condom is not an evil object in itself. Let's be clear about that.

First, I find it very disconcerting that some Church officials seem to view sexual intercourse as the raison d'etre of the married couple. I guess these men have not understood the Church's teaching properly on the subject of marriage. I cannot find any such document that would tell me that for a holy marriage, one must have sexual intercourse constantly throughout a marriage or otherwise the marriage is not holy. Sexual intercourse is but a very small fragment of the married life. Indeed, at times, it has a very diminished role in the life of any good marriage. Marriage is much more about sharing the love of Christ with your spouse. And that takes the form of many different things. Being kind and caring about your spouse, helping out with the household, rearing children together, being prayer-filled and holy for the good of your spouse and family, and the list goes on and on.

When a couple finds itself in the situation of one of the spouses having HIV, maybe it should cause some reflection about how such a condition occurred and what God might be telling the couple regarding their life together. Maybe God is asking this couple to take on the life of continence. Certainly the couple may need counseling and help to understand God's role in all things. And if so desired, I have no doubt that a couple could live out a life of continence, with God's help, through prayer and the sacraments. In the early Church, you can find examples of when the man of a married couple became a priest, the couple would have to give up sexual intercourse for the rest of the marriage. More evidence of this can be found in The Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy by Christian Cochini, S.J. I quote from Canon 29 of the 1st Council of Arles (314), "Moreover, [concerned with] what is worthy, pure and honest, we exhort our brothers [in the episcopate] to make sure that priests and deacons have no [sexual] relations with their wives, since they are serving the ministry every day. Whoever will act against this decision will be deposed from the honor of the clergy" (Cochini, 161).

Further, what would it say of the conjugal act and marriage itself if such an evil were permitted throughout the remaining years of a marriage. Does it not bespeak of a marriage whose unity has been destroyed? And for what, the gain of sexual pleasure? Is that what sexual intercourse has become, just for pleasure's sake? Marriage in such a context will no longer exist as an expression of the bond between Christ and the Church.

Second, I want to draw attention to the lesser evil defense. Let me illustrate with a very good and lucid example about the nature of choosing the lesser evil. In the two versions of the Exorcist Prequel movie, the main character is a fallen-away priest who has, to say the least, had a incident from the past that does not let go of him. He was a parish priest during the Nazi occupation, I don't remember which country exactly, but the priest tries to defend a group of townspeople who the Nazis want to murder. The Nazi leader in this town forces the priest either to choose a certain number of victims to kill or the Nazis will murder them all. So the priest is caught in a dilemma. Does he help the Nazis and save lives or does it let all in the group die? What would you do? In this case, the priest chose the "lesser evil" and chose people to be murdered by the Nazis and he saved lives in the end. Did he do the good thing? Of course not. That may shock some but it is true. The priest, in the end, did not have to commit any evil. He could have chosen to not do anything at all and let the Nazis kill everyone. Perhpas he even have struggled with them and then lose his own life in the process but atleast he would not have committed a grave sin. The priest should have chosen the huge sacrifice of himself and the others to stand up for what is good and holy. Instead he choose to cooperate with the Nazis and took it upon himself to decide who should live and who should die, which life was worth more and which was worth less. It is no wonder the priest lost his own humanity and his relationship to God because of this incident in the movie. When one wonders so far from God by such evil acts, how could they ever feel holy or close to God? And yet the priest, thinking only in terms of this life, did what he thought might be the better thing, namely, to choose the lesser of the two evils. The problem is that it was not the lesser because it measured evil only by this life and not by eternal life.

I think this example illustrations something inherent in our society's understanding of the human person. There is a problem with sacrifice. Who likes to sacrifice things anymore? In our culture of materialism and wealth and ease, sacrifice seems ridiculous and unbelievable. I mean, what kind of man in his right mind would turn down a high-paying/time-demanding job to spend more time with his family? Won't that extra money make things easier for his family and give them what they need? Human life has reduced itself to seeking pleasures in money, materials, the body, and others. We have become worse than animals in that we seek to debase ourselves in the pursuit of such things. Atleast animals instinctually go after what they desire. We have reason and a will. We can choose what we want and need. In the reduction of the human person, we have lost the illustrious norm of sacrifice, given to us by Christ himself in the Eucharist and on the Cross. Is it not service and sacrifice that define the human person? As Jesus tells us, it is in the giving of ourselves that we find ourselves.

No married couple with one spouse having HIV should ever have to choose evil. The right thing, the sacrifice, is to forgo sexual intercourse and take up a life of continence, for God. The couple should realize their place in the path to holiness and find new avenues of sharing their lives with each other. Giving up the conjugal act is not the end of marriage, but may be the new beginning of marriage for this couple. I mean, not to wander far off from what I want to say, but how did this spouse get infected in the first place? Was it through immoral activity? If so, then perpetuating more evil to occur within a marriage would be disasterous. Repentance, the sacraments, and prayer are needed more than anything. The conjugal act should be the last thing on this spouse's mind. Or did the infection occur through a blood transfusion or some other means not the fault of the individual? If so, what an unfortunate thing to have occurred. Many accidents occur to good people in life but that does not excuse them from the difficulties of the road to holiness. We all have our crosses and it is through God's grace that we can take them up and follow Christ in each day of our lives. "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" is not some ideal but can and should happen in our lives. It is not absolute perfection in this life but a perfection that shows our growth in charity towards that final day in which we will behold the face of God himself.

Finally, I want to offer a final rejoinder to what Msgr.
Luño said about most moralists believing the argument for condoms as a lesser evil is fairly clear. Please visit here. A good website, The American Papist, has a post containing articles concerning this issue HIV and condoms. Certainly there are moralists who disagree with this type of "lesser evil" approach. Please make use of these resources for more arguments about this issue.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Christians, be serious in taking action

Below is an excerpt of a very fine homily from Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household. It was delivered on Good Friday at St. Peter's Basilica. You can find the whole text at
"The time is sure to come when people will not accept sound teaching, but their ears will be itching for anything new and they will collect themselves a whole series of teachers according to their own tastes; and then they will shut their ears to the truth and will turn to myths" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

This word of Scripture -- and in a special way the reference to the itching for anything new -- is being realized in a new and impressive way in our days. While we celebrate here the memory of the passion and death of the Savior, millions of people are seduced by the clever rewriting of ancient legends to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was never crucified. In the United States a best-seller at present is an edition of The Gospel of Thomas, presented as the Gospel that "spares us the crucifixion, makes the resurrection unnecessary, and does not present us with a God named Jesus."

Some years ago, Raymond Brown, the greatest biblical scholar of the Passion, wrote: "It is an embarrassing insight into human nature that the more fantastic the scenario, the more sensational is the promotion it receives and the more intense the faddish interest it attracts. People who would never bother reading a responsible analysis of the traditions about how Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead are fascinated by the report of some 'new insight' to the effect that he was not crucified or did not die, especially if the subsequent career involved running off with Mary Magdalene to India … These theories demonstrate that in relation to the passion of Jesus, despite the popular maxim, fiction is stranger than fact, and often, intentionally or not, more profitable."

There is much talk about Judas' betrayal, without realizing that it is being repeated. Christ is being sold again, no longer to the leaders of the Sanhedrin for thirty denarii, but to editors and booksellers for billions of denarii. No one will succeed in halting this speculative wave, which instead will flare up with the imminent release of a certain film, but being concerned for years with the history of Ancient Christianity, I feel the duty to call attention to a huge misunderstanding which is at the bottom of all this pseudo-historical literature.

The apocryphal gospels on which they lean are texts that have always been known, in whole or in part, but with which not even the most critical and hostile historians of Christianity ever thought, before today, that history could be made. It would be as if within two centuries an attempt were made to reconstruct a present-day history based on novels written in our age.

The huge misunderstanding is the fact that they use these writings to make them say exactly the opposite of what they intended. They are part of the gnostic literature of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The gnostic vision -- a mixture of Platonic dualism and Eastern doctrines, cloaked in biblical ideas -- holds that the material world is an illusion, the work of the God of the Old Testament, who is an evil god, or at least inferior; Christ did not die on the cross, because he never assumed, except in appearance, a human body, the latter being unworthy of God (Docetism).

If, according to The Gospel of Judas, of which there has been much talk in recent days, Jesus himself orders the apostle to betray him, it is because, by dying, the divine spirit which was in him would finally be able to liberate itself from involvement of the flesh and re-ascend to heaven. Marriage oriented to births is to be avoided; woman will be saved only if the "feminine principle" (thelus) personified by her, is transformed into the masculine principle, that is, if she ceases to be woman.

The funny thing is that today there are those who believe they see in these writings the exaltation of the feminine principle, of sexuality, of the full and uninhibited enjoyment of this material world, contrary to the official Church which would always have frustrated all this! The same mistake is noted in regard to the doctrine of reincarnation. Present in the Eastern religions as a punishment due to previous faults and as something to which one longs to put an end with all one's might, it is accepted in the West as a wonderful possibility to live and enjoy this world indefinitely.

These are issues that would not merit being addressed in this place and on this day, but we cannot allow the silence of believers to be mistaken for embarrassment and that the good faith (or foolishness?) of millions of people be crassly manipulated by the media, without raising a cry of protest, not only in the name of the faith, but also of common sense and healthy reason. It is the moment, I believe, to hear again the admonishment of Dante Alighieri:

Christians, be serious in taking action:
Do not be like a feather to every wind,
Nor think that every water cleanses you.
You have the New and the Old Testament
And the Shepherd of the Church to guide you;
Let this be all you need for your salvation …
Be men, do not be senseless sheep. (Paradiso, V, 73-80)

Sunday, April 09, 2006


It is my intention to make this weblog a source of many things relating to Christian morality.

Sometimes you may stumble across meditations on texts. Or you may come across formal arguments concerning moral theology. I occasionally may offer reviews of books I read during the course of my studies and leisure time. And certainly I will recommend books or articles I find fascinating and enlightening to those interested.

For the curious, you will not find watered-down Catholic morality here. I hold and teach the Catholic faith without reservation. And I humbly would submit my work to the Church for examination, if need be.

In my current work and research, I am focusing on sexual ethics, more specifically the issue of homosexuality and the Church's teaching. My moral theological interests span from sexual ethics, to marriage and the family, to bioethics, social ethics, and last but not least the intergration of the biblical witness in moral theology. I also have interest in systematic theology.

I welcome comments upon my posts and also welcome feedback or questions via email (which you can find in my profile).

A Sign of Contradiction

In 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger composed a beautiful set of meditations on the Way of the Cross for then-Pope John Paul II. In the meditation for the First Station, where Jesus is condemned to death, Cardinal Ratzinger writes:

"The Judge of the world, who will come again to judge us all, stands there, dishonored and defenseless before the earthly judge. Pilate is not utterly evil. He knows that the condemned man is innocent, and he looks for a way to free him. But his heart is divided. And in the end he lets his own position, his own self-interest, prevail over what is right. Nor are the men who are shouting and demanding the death of Jesus utterly evil. Many of them, on the day of Pentecost, will feel “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37), when Peter will say to them: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God... you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law” (Acts 2:22ff.). But at that moment they are caught up in the crowd. They are shouting because everyone else is shouting, and they are shouting the same thing that everyone else is shouting. And in this way, justice is trampled underfoot by weakness, cowardice and fear of the diktat of the ruling mindset. The quiet voice of conscience is drowned out by the cries of the crowd. Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think."

Over nineteen hundred years have past since Jesus' encounter with Pilate, and things have not changed very much. How often have the right decisions been neglected and avoided because of indecisiveness or for concern of what other people think? How often has self-interest been characteristic of human action and endeavor? In the meditation for third station of the Cross, Jesus falls for the first time, Cardinal Ratzinger illuminates what underlies this malady of human action:

"Man has fallen, and he continues to fall: often he becomes a caricature of himself, no longer the image of God, but a mockery of the Creator. Is not the man who, on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among robbers who stripped him and left him half-dead and bleeding beside the road, the image of humanity par excellence? Jesus’ fall beneath the Cross is not just the fall of the man Jesus, exhausted from his scourging. There is a more profound meaning in this fall, as Paul tells us in the Letter to the Philippians: “though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men... He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross” (Phil 2:6-8). In Jesus’ fall beneath the weight of the Cross, the meaning of his whole life is seen: his voluntary abasement, which lifts us up from the depths of our pride. The nature of our pride is also revealed: it is that arrogance which makes us want to be liberated from God and left alone to ourselves, the arrogance which makes us think that we do not need his eternal love, but can be the masters of our own lives. In this rebellion against truth, in this attempt to be our own god, creator and judge, we fall headlong and plunge into self-destruction. The humility of Jesus is the surmounting of our pride; by his abasement he lifts us up. Let us allow him to lift us up. Let us strip away our sense of self-sufficiency, our false illusions of independence, and learn from him, the One who humbled himself, to discover our true greatness by bending low before God and before our downtrodden brothers and sisters."

Man, in his attempt to create meaning for himself, has robbed himself of any meaning possible. Through the wellsprings of pride, man debases himself from his status as an image of God and it is Jesus and the Cross - the sign of contradiction - that should call man back to his humble origin. We need to recognize in Jesus and the Cross the humility that we lack and the guidance that we need from the true source of ourselves, God himself. Do we stand ready to learn from the Master?

Our discipleship as Christians calls us to live out our lives as signs of contradictions. We need to live out this call radically in a day and age when we are up against all sorts of anti-Christian sentiments and arguments. We have to not only learn our faith and live it, but we must live our faith well. And to live our faith well demands that we not be sluggish or lazy Christians but rather ones who must take up the demands of the Cross and become signs of contradictions in which we stand up for what is True, Good, and Beautiful – all which reside in God himself. Without these things in which life has true and ultimate meaning from God, we plunge ourselves into self-destruction. Man cannot revolve around himself. Man must root his existence in God alone.

To live the Christian life to the fullest makes many demands. We must be mindful of all of our actions and thoughts. We have to protect ourselves from harmful and sinful situations. We have to find ourselves in the right company of fellow Christians because, face it, we need the help and encouragement. We have to make many sacrifices to live the life that God calls us to live. Do not be fooled. Living Christianity to the fullest is not easy but its’ rewards are beyond compare.

Think about it. Often we spend so much of our time seeking fruitless and banal pleasures and material objects and wealth. Compare that with how little we spend seeking to love and serve God and to find the reward of eternal life. Who or what do we really worship in this life? Do we really worship and love the Lord God with all our hearts? Or do we really worship and love our jobs or pleasures or food or material goods? On this Passion Sunday, think of what the Lord Jesus has done for you. Think of the patience and care and love God took to give us life and to live it to the fullest in Him. Is not our lives but for the Lord? If so, then everything we do and say should orient us always toward God.

Heavenly Father, as we contemplate the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ on the Cross, on this Passion Sunday, may we learn from His example, as a sign of contradiction to this world, to be ready and willing to live the Truth in every aspect of our lives. Through Jesus’ example, may we learn to live in humility. And may we draw strength and courage from Jesus’ powerful testimony as a sign of patience and understanding in Love for the all the world to see. Amen.