Showing posts with label humanity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label humanity. Show all posts

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Anti-Feminist and Woman-Hating Nature of Contraception

Our next appeal is to men of science. These can considerably advance the welfare of marriage and the family and also peace of conscience, if by pooling their efforts they strive to elucidate more thoroughly the conditions favorable to a proper regulation of births. It is supremely desirable, and this was also the mind of Pius XII, that medical science should by the study of natural rhythms succeed in determining a sufficiently secure basis for the chaste limitation of offspring.

In this way scientists, especially those who are Catholics, will by their research establish the truth of the Church's claim that "there can be no contradiction between two divine laws—that which governs the transmitting of life and that which governs the fostering of married love."
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 24

Reflection – It was just as HV was being published that two doctors in Australia, John and Evelyn Billings, were responding in advance to this appeal from the Pope to men (and women) of science. Studying the fertility cycles of women, they developed a method, not so much of contraception, but of highly accurate tracking of the monthly ovulation cycle through certain manifestations that women could be taught to observe.

The Billings Ovulation Method developed by them has proven itself to be an invaluable tool empowering millions of married couples to know their own patterns of fertility and infertility and rationally plan their families accordingly. Used properly as a means of avoiding pregnancy, it has an effectiveness rate of around 97%, comparable to the birth control pill.

Many will dismiss NFP as ‘the rhythm method’ and trot out the hoary old joke about ‘What do you call women who use the rhythm method? Mothers.’ It should be hoary old joke indeed, since to conflate NFP with the calendar rhythm method is rather like discussing the gas mileage of cars by conflating together Hummers and Priuses, or discussing the survival rates of heart surgery by combining statistics from the 1940s to the present.

In other words, science has indeed marched on, and the Billings and other modern methods of NFP are ‘not your grandfather’s NFP’, to paraphrase the old car commercial. I find it a bit darkly amusing that people who claim the mantle of modernity and scientific rationality are about 50 years behind the times on this question and resolutely resist updating their knowledge.

People do sometimes quote a 25% failure rate for Billings (in the sense that ‘getting pregnant’ is counted as failure, which is in my view a problematic statement—few of us would care to be told that our existence was a ‘failure’ by our parents), but this number is misleading. It would appear (from my reading on the subject) that this reflects either poor teaching or use of the method, decisions to ignore the information re fertility (which is all NFP gives you) and have intercourse during the fertile period, or an actual choice by the couple to go ahead and achieve pregnancy using that information.

NFP is not, really, a contraceptive method, but a method of acquiring knowledge, the woman’s knowledge about her own body and its workings, the couple’s knowledge about their mutual fertility. It is interesting that, under the mantle of supposed ‘feminism’, many would choose to deprive the woman of this knowledge, keep the poor thing in ignorance about her own body, and instead hand her a bunch of pills or devices that have high levels of health risks and unpleasant side effects, or if they don’t, probably don’t work all that well, since it is the normal healthy state for a woman's body to be fertile (but if the contraception fails, abortion is always offered as a back-up plan) and can make it difficult to achieve pregnancy down the line.

Contraception essentially treats fertility as a disease and women’s bodies as if they are defective. Scientists (usually male) need to reconfigure the body of the woman to fix her, since she is broken and inferior, even if by making her sterile they cause her to have all sorts of other health issues.

NFP, promoted by the Catholic Church among others, treats the woman as if she is a rational agent capable of understanding herself and her physicality and capable of making choices to plan her life based on the actual way her body works and its inherent rhythms.

Uhh… remind me of who the feminists in this picture are, again?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

If You Were a Tree, What Kind of Tree Would You Be?

The water I shall give him will become in him a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy. But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things are dependent on water; plants and animals have their origin in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and although it is always the same in itself, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on throughout the whole of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but while remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each man as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance has made it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, the effects of his action, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are both many and marvellous.

The Spirit makes one man a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one man’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. His action is different in different people, but the Spirit himself is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches. The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.

As light strikes the eyes of a man who comes out of darkness into the sunshine and enables him to see clearly things he could not discern before, so light floods the soul of the man counted worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables him to see things beyond the range of human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Office of Readings, Monday of the 7th Week of Easter

Reflection – Time for a little seasonal blogging, as the great feast of Pentecost, in its solemnity exceeded only by Christmas and Easter, is coming. This instruction by Cyril of Jerusalem is especially beautiful, and I always look forward to it in the office each year. It is a clear teaching on the nature of grace, its essentially divine quality, and its created effects in the soul.

As we are in this Pentecost ‘season’, so to speak, it is good to ponder a bit what kind of plant you are. Are you a palm tree or a vine? Or some people are garden vegetables, not too exciting perhaps, but bringing solid food to the table of humanity day by day. Others are flowers, with a great capacity to beautify life and delight their brothers and sisters.

And then there are the great trees, oaks and maples and such, that are capacious and strong enough to provide shelter and security to others, shade from the heat of the day, respite from a harsh world. And others are the green grass of the world, low to the ground, trodden on sometimes, seen as being of little account, yet in their humility and meekness playing a more vital role in holding the dew of the Spirit in the clay of the earth than most realize. The victim souls, who are low and despicable in the eyes of the world yet hold so much together in hidden fecundity.

We all of us are something, and this something is what the Spirit waters and nourishes and makes grow upwards from its human earthly roots towards the heavens, the air and sky that is symbolic of the divine sphere. I suppose ultimately we don’t have to know exactly what plant we are—probably it is not given to us to see too clearly our precise place in the Body of Christ and the Body of Man.

The key is to have faith that we are there, and to call out to the Spirit to pour down his gentle rain on us to make us grow to be who we are, become ourselves in the deepest sense of that word, which is really to become Christ, and in this becoming bear fruit in our lives with the beautiful fruits of the Spirit we find in Galatians 5.

And that’s where I will go tomorrow – to that magnificent teaching of Paul about the fruits of the flesh and the Spirit and how they come to us all in our lives.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Tossed to the Breast

When God at first made man,
Having a glasse of blessings standing by;
Let us (said he) poure on him all we can:
Let the worlds riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.

So strength first made a way;
Then beautie flow’d, then wisdome, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that alone of all his treasure
Rest in the bottome lay.

For if I should (said he)
Bestow this jewell also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlesnesse:
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast.
George Herbert, The Pulley

Reflection – I’ve been wanting to include more poetry on this blog lately—I am a bit of a poetry geek (which is the geekiest of all geek categories—at least Tolkien geeks get swords!), and the Easter season (don’t forget it’s still Easter, right?) is a good time to have some beauty of language and imagery before us.

This Herbert poem shows up in the poetry appendix of the breviary, the precise function of which I have never been sure of. The appendix, that is, not the breviary. It has some truly lovely turns of phrase: ‘let him be rich and wearie… keep them in with repining restlesnesse… and rest in Nature, not the God of Nature: so both should losers be… weariness may tosse him to my breast.’

Underneath the fine poetry is a deep insight into the human condition and its meaning. With all the joys and goodness and manifest beauty and blessing of our world—as I write this it is a glorious spring morning outside my window, the sun pouring down on the grass and trees as if it only has so much time to do that, the birches positively glowing with reflected light—but with all that, we have ‘repining restlessness’.

We never quite are satisfied; we have a strange incapacity to just settle down and settle in. Some people experience this more acutely, some less so, but nobody I have ever met is quite free of it. I would argue, indeed, that much of the sexual chaos of our times that I have been discussing on the blog lately stems largely from our trying to use that aspect of our humanity to yield a rest and a fullness of being that it is not within its power to do.

St. Augustine said it first, and nobody has ever said it better: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

What strikes me in this is the profound gentleness and mercy of God. If you have the slightest awareness of the goodness, beauty, majesty, and awesome grandeur, exalted holiness, and absolute perfection of being and love that is this mystery we call God (for want of a better word), then it really is something to see how gracious He is to us.

We should run towards Him with eagerness and excitement. We should, automatically and obviously, make God and the things of God the first priority, the overriding concern, the total focus of every moment of every day. If you don’t see that, you don’t really know what is meant by the word ‘God’.

But of course, we don’t. We turn, so often, to God as a sort of desperate last resort, after and only after having exhausted every possible trick and turn of nature and our humanity, every possible way we can find to attain the rest and repose of our humanity, only after every other option has been tried and found wanting… then and only then, so often is the case, will we try God, not out of any great love for Him, but out of sheer ‘wearinesse’.

And God accepts that. He really does seem to want to spend eternity with us, I guess, and will take any movement from us in His direction, however pathetic and ungracious and even churlish and self-seeking it is on our part.

This basic level of human discontent and unhappiness, this strange restlessness of the human condition, is in fact the great gift of God’s mercy to us. He knows that it is the very nature of the Nature of Things that He and only He holds the fullness of being and thus happiness we need. So He makes it impossible for us to really be happy with anything less than Himself. And this is a gift, perhaps God’s greatest gift to us this side of heaven itself, the ‘pulley’ that draws us upwards almost against our wills, the hunger that no bread of earth can satisfy, the itch that can never be quite scratched, the light of mercy that draws us moth-like to its bright and life-giving flame.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Heart of St. John Paul II

The father's fidelity to himself - a trait already known by the Old Testament term hesed - is at the same time expressed in a manner particularly charged with affection. We read, in fact, that when the father saw the prodigal son returning home "he had compassion, ran to meet him, threw his arms around his neck and kissed him."

He certainly does this under the influence of a deep affection, and this also explains his generosity towards his son, that generosity which so angers the elder son. Nevertheless, the causes of this emotion are to be sought at a deeper level. Notice, the father is aware that a fundamental good has been saved: the good of his son's humanity. Although the son has squandered the inheritance, nevertheless his humanity is saved. Indeed, it has been, in a way, found again.

The father's words to the elder son reveal this: "It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found." In the same chapter fifteen of Luke's Gospel, we read the parable of the sheep that was found and then the parable of the coin that was found. Each time there is an emphasis on the same joy that is present in the case of the prodigal son. The father's fidelity to himself is totally concentrated upon the humanity of the lost son, upon his dignity. This explains above all his joyous emotion at the moment of the son's return home.

Going on, one can therefore say that the love for the son, the love that springs from the very essence of fatherhood, in a way obliges the father to be concerned about his son's dignity. This concern is the measure of his love, the love of which Saint Paul was to write: "Love is patient and kind.. .love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful...but rejoices in the right...hopes all things, endures all things" and "love never ends."

Mercy - as Christ has presented it in the parable of the prodigal son - has the interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called agape. This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. 

When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and "restored to value." The father first and foremost expresses to him his joy that he has been "found again" and that he has "returned to life. This joy indicates a good that has remained intact: even if he is a prodigal, a son does not cease to be truly his father's son; it also indicates a good that has been found again, which in the case of the prodigal son was his return to the truth about himself.

Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia 5-6

Reflection – This will be my last post from St. John Paul II on mercy – I really do recommend reading the rest of the encyclical, folks, as it is quite beautiful. In my opinion, the first two encyclicals of St. John Paul’s papacy are necessary to understand the rest of his papacy. This is the heart of the man, the core of his doctrine and his own presentation of the Gospel. In particular, we cannot understand his writings on human sexuality and the theology of the body without grounding them in the anthropology of Redemptor Hominis and the theology of Dives in Misericordia.

Indeed, why should we care what God says to us about morality and sexuality and humanity unless first he is holding before us the very pattern of fullness of human life in Jesus Christ, and unless he is doing so because of the richness of his mercy and love for us, his fatherly care and solicitude? Really, if that were not the case, why on earth would we bother with this God of ours and his rules?

It is never about the rules; it is always about the person, and the true dignity and value of the human person. The mercy of God comes to each human being, not to leave them exactly where they are living exactly as they choose to live—the father in the parable waited for the son, but he did not go live in the pig sty with him. The mercy of God comes to each of us to call us home, to call us to our true dignity as sons of God, a dignity only found as we are conformed to the pattern of sacrificial love and holiness of the Son Himself.

This is the joy of Easter, you know. Not that it’s finally spring, or that we have ended the time of fasting and can eat nice foods, or that the liturgy has lots of alleluias in it—all good things, mind you. The joy of Easter is that God is merciful, and in that mercy has raised us up with Christ to life, and that mercy is given freely and fully to the whole human race, and that wherever this mercy is received new life is given, sin is consumed in the fire of mercy, and the true dignity and beauty of each human person is restored and shines forth. And that is the joy of Easter, shining from the Cross and the empty tomb, reflected in the human person who enters into that joy.