Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Some Assembly Required

I have found a new, very Catholic hobby: “making” rosaries. I put the verb in quotation marks because someone else does all the hard work. Someone else mines the stones or cultivates the pearls, turns the beads and drills them. Someone else casts the centerpiece and the crucifix. Someone else forges the chain and pulls the wire, makes the tools, and then puts it all in online shops so that I can buy it from the comfort of my very own easy chair. I even had to have a friend show me the proper way to bend the wire--my sole contribution, aside from a bit of ingenuity, and a good deal of time, prayer and affection--to the process. I am, in fact, an assembler, nothing more. Mind you, the finished products are by and large quite pretty and have been well received by those friends on whom I have foisted them. Still, it’s not on a par with building the Sears Tower.

But once, just once in my lifetime, I got to be a part of true creation, one greater than the Sears Tower, providing only of myself and helping to bring into being something that had never existed in any form before. Something for which there was no gem mine, or silversmith or entrepreneur as precursor. The only truly creative act of humankind, for everything else is in some measure derivative of another’s work.

My husband and I had a baby.

I recognized it as a miracle, even then, particularly given our rocky fertility history. But it wasn’t until I began to understand the theology of the bodies that God has given us that the impact of that relatively commonplace act hit home. My husband and I were permitted to be co-workers with God in bringing a new soul into the world, unique, precious, unrepeatable and much loved. No person the same before or since, or ever again. Created not quite out of nothing (that still remains the province of God) but out of our very selves, our love and our commitment, and if only for the briefest moment in time, out of our openness to life. We were procreators, entering by permission into Divine territory--involved in bringing not just a new creature into being, which even animals do, but a home to a new soul. A soul that, unlike my rosaries and the Sears Tower, will never pass away into nothingness.

That, friends and neighbors, is the mystery and significance and importance and beauty and purpose of sex. Nothing less, and nothing different. It boggled my mind then,and I still keep uncovering meaning and love and awe and experience in it these many years later.

Catholic teaching on sexuality makes so much sense. Catholic teaching clearly explains why the marital act is so sacred, and why sexual sins are so terribly devastating to our relationship to Christ and His Church--and to each other. If the original sin of pride was “I--not God-- get to determine what is right,” then sexual sin devolves into “I--not God-- get to decide how nature and creation (both senses of the term) are ordered.”

Rejecting God’s gift of entry into the process of creation as He designed it not only rejects God and His plan, it is yet another way humankind attempts to usurp the role of the Almighty: our little “control” problem at its worst, most evident and most toxic. When we fiddle with the design God laid in creation for our relationships to each other, to Him and to family, and the the Church, we muddle things up rather badly. No matter how good it looks on paper, such misguided alterations never work out.

Modern society wants nothing more fervently than to transform the marital act--that most intimate joining not only of husband and wife but of couple and Creator--into pleasant and meaningless recreation, open to one and all----and for that to succeed, contraception is essential. The broad acceptance of contraception was the pivotal change that led away from the right orientation of the gift of sexuality, the first step on the journey into the decadent society we find ourselves in today.

The notion of sex-as-parlor game comes at the expense of dehumanizing mankind--look at the arguments for promiscuity most often offered by advocates of “free love:” after all, sex is a natural process--birds do it--bees do it-- and we can do it, however and whenever we wish. Every man or woman who has been thrown over after a sexual liaison, and left hurting knows the bitter reality of that lie: sex isn’t just recreation, no matter how much we want it to be or pretend that it is. It is something much more, deeply more. It was meant to be so.

Modern sexuality gets all tied up in the crazy posture of this world that at once wishes to elevate men into gods, capable of ruling the universe, while at the same time making them indistinguishable in matter or value from the lowly cockroach. And, in the eyes of some, far less desirable in the grand scheme of things, incidental to creation, rather than the apex of it, made in the image and likeness of God.

The saddest reality of all is this: when one thinks and acts and feels as though he is already a god, then one is not likely to be open to the awareness that God really is, God who loves and nurtures and woos all mankind. As long as society keeps us filled with thoughts of sex (and they are everywhere) and as long as it can cast the Church as the enemy of “pleasant, uninhibited sex as it was meant to be,” it is easy not to go searching for God or for His church. Society has set up the choice between rewarding-sex-as-I-want-it or God. No other ground, no room for truth, for sex-as-God-planned it.

And so, our current society promotes uninhibited sex as an unmitigated good, forcibly separating the act of procreation from the Creator Himself. It puts the focus on hedonism, devaluing the person by making sex into a way to amuse oneself at another’s intimate expense. Society punishes and ridicules chastity in any form, calling it foolish or repressed or unattainable. It declares children a burden--on the parents, who should not have too many, and on the planet, which will suffer from an overabundance of mankind. It finds celibacy an utter threat, something that is “unnatural,”--an odd complaint given the sorts of previously unthinkable, now mainstream-and-celebrated sexual attitudes that are on full display all around us.

Thus is our society one in which identity is increasingly defined by sexual urges: homosexual--heterosexual-transexual-bisexual--instead of the Call by which one lives, the Voice to whom one answers.

We are bombarded with the nonstop message that sex is fun, there are no limits and that anyone who proposes the sacramental nature of the marital act is prudish, benighted, or bigoted--possibly all three. We live in a society in which it is expected that no one will come to the marriage bed a virgin and young couples--even Catholic ones--routinely move in together before marriage. A society in which it is expected that husbands and wives will stray, because, after all, that’s “normal.” A society in which there really are no boundaries left.

It is, in the end, a society that as “assembler” takes all the beautiful parts God gave us and instead of creating something treasured and uplifting, creates something sordid and debasing and imprisoning. A society that removes procreation and union with the Father and substitutes instead mere reproduction at best and ultimately, union with nothing at all. A society in which we who know better are all too often silent about the lies we see around us and the truth that will free us.

Catholics have the antidote if we dare to administer it. Our Church proclaims Christ’s teaching and our Church provides the means to receive God’s grace to live it and spread it. We need the courage to believe it, trust it, and proclaim it, by our words and by our lives. We need to teach and preach and exemplify chastity, and expect it of others.

We need to abandon the habit of complicit silence, and learn to speak the truth--to ourselves first, then to others, boldly but in love. We need to stop supporting--and start vigorously and unrelentingly opposing-- those things and those people who undermine God’s plan for our lives by their products and actions and words and votes. We need to be discernibly different from those who have embraced this particular falsehood from the Father of Lies in how we dress, in how we act, in what we do, in what we say, in what we expect from ourselves and from others.

Imagine what we might have a part in assembling if we do.

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