Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

24 January 2013

Of Hamburger and Filet Mignon

A recent RCIA subject was the Sacrament of Marriage.  While I was the presenter ("A bald-headed barber can cut hair," said a venerable deceased priest of our diocese), there are two Catholic couples who have joined us this year for a refresher course.   I could rely upon them for insights into authentic Catholic marriage, for refutation or support.

On the whiteboard I wrote down Canon 1055.1 as the point of departure:
The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.
I hardly began to unpack that rich definition before a vibrant discussion ensued.  Looking back, I think the catalyst was an early digression on the distinction between celibate (properly defined as "non-marriage") and chaste (sexuality expressed appropriately in one's "state in life," whether married or not).  I do this to myself.  

Former high school students can recall how class discussions often went (imagine the last glug glug glug of the toilet bowl), but we have something greater than high schoolers here.  The average age of the group is, give or take a couple of years, 40.  By this point our good people have had some experience in the gamut of human relationships, certainly once as children, but now as co-workers, spouses, and parents.  They can testify to the blessings of marriage amid some considerable wounds.

By evening's end we basically treated the subject, though not without diversions aplenty.  "We will revisit this topic next week"...and perhaps a few more times, because the marital analogy pervades Catholic theology.  As we adjourned one candidate noted, "When it came to everything else we've learned so far, it was easier to just accept what was being discussed.  But when it came to marriage..."  Yes--marriage and family life are one big fat sensitive nerve that runs through the person and society.  It is akin to the "Bread of Life Discourse" (cf. Jn 6) in terms of its effects on the confounded crowd.   It is the foremost point of departure between All-In Catholics and Cafeteria Catholics.

"Lord, to whom shall we go? The Kardashians aren't even around yet!"

As much as I trembled at the sound of contention, in my heart I rejoiced.  There is no other way for understanding and healing to begin, except in the encounter of truth, undertaken in an atmosphere of brutal honesty and tender acceptance.  "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off" (Gloria Steinem, whom I never ever expected to quote in a post on the Catholic vision of human sexuality).

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A priest I know likes to say, "Why settle for hamburger when you can have Filet Mignon?"  This, chiefly, in regard to Filet Mignon; but also--and, I believe, more pointedly--with respect to the Catholic Church, which still, even in Vatican II, claims to be blessed with the fullness of the means of salvation.

Matthew 25:21

Catholic speakers on the topic of human sexuality (the likes of Christopher West come to mind) might find this metaphor "meat and just" for their purposes.  The contraceptive mentality, whether it is expressed as concubinage, same-sex relations, ipsation (from the Latin ipse, "self"), or the restriction of fertility for egregiously selfish motives, is, no matter how you garnish it, hamburger.

Actually, it is hamburger laced with "mad cow disease": vitiated, unable to fulfill its intended purpose.

For many people sexual activity has no other purpose than to satisfy partners who mutually engage in it, in whatever manner suits them.  The Catholic Church maintains both a proper purpose and a proper manner for sexual expression.  Unlike many of our Protestant brethren--and to the consternation of some Catholics--the Church will neither retract nor qualify this positive Word on the One-Flesh Union.

I constantly witness the noxious effects of self-spoiled sexuality on many penitents and their families.  And Confession isn't the only forum that people don't tend to visit while on a winning streak!  (Whining, maybe.)

We are talking about the deliberate, mechanical and/or chemical separation of the procreative and the unitive purposes of the sexual act.  (I was about to call it the "marital" act, as it once was known; but why must we call it "marital," or why limit its use to that context?)  Last year a secular publication ably described the consequences of the great divorce of openness to new life and reinforcement of the nuptial bond.  Various writers, including a blogger from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), have repeated John Paul II's famous verity: The problem of pornography is not that it shows too much, but that it shows too little.

Everyone has composed his or her own variations of this danse macabre, whether from a more theoretical standpoint or from their own painful experiences.

God knows that people who have made or are preparing to make the solemn promise of chaste celibacy share concupiscence with the laity.  We have our own ill-set, including misplaced resentment and indulgence in "more socially acceptable" vices.  Moreover, our overt violations of commandments six and nine have garnered much publicity in recent years, proving old and prompting new speculation on covert violations.
I may be sounding like a critic of my own kind here, but it's more of an anticipatory volley against expected objections; besides, through working with others I've gotten to recognize and address many things over the years--a lifelong endeavor that gives much joy and saves much trouble.  There's no harm in preemptive honesty that is both accurate and charitable, made by one who knows and who wants to be part of the solution instead of the precipitate!
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With any "adult" audience, inside or outside of the liturgy, I cannot presume that they have heard it all before, or heard it right.  Fulton Sheen, I believe, said that people often hate not the Catholic Church as she really is, but what they suppose the Catholic Church to be.  Even so, they may very well understand what she teaches with regard to certain matters--sexual or otherwise--but their system just isn't accustomed to filet mignon.

Nowadays, whether I'm talking to the 4th graders or to 40 year olds in RCIA, I am plugging character formation--the gentle and determined subjection of the passions to the intellect and will.  "Emotions make an excellent servant, but a poor master."  I try to be consistent with this because, I figure, it's always appropriate to exhort my brothers and sisters in Christ to become more conscious of God's presence in their daily choices.  And I never hesitate to remind them that I am speaking as if to a mirror.

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