Friday, December 21, 2012

Defending our humanity: Pope Benedict speaks to his Curia

Yesterday the Holy Father delivered his annual pre-Christmas speech to the Roman Curia. In this annual speech the Pontiff takes the opportunity to review the past year and speak on several topics that he feels are of the utmost importance. As he did back in 2008, which year marked the fortieth anniversary of Pope Paul VI's (whom Pope Benedict declared "Venerable" yesterday as well) promulgation of Humanae Vitae, Benedict XVI addressed the issue of prioritizing "gender" over "sex," or the tendency even to eliminate "sex" (i.e., what you are by nature) in favor of "gender" (posited as a social construction and so having little or nothing essential to do with the identity of any individual human person).

In this year's address, the Holy Father cited the prioritization, or complete replacement of "sex" with "gender" as one thing that is perilous. Citing the work of the Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, Pope Benedict said,
that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term “gender” as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist
Given the inevitable flame that insight sparks, it is easy to overlook the other thing cited as a grave threat to marriage and society, namely "the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment," an observation that leads the Pontiff to a series of questions that bear on both marriage as well as priesthood and religious life: "Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for?"

(Photo by Eric Vandeville-Pool/Getty Images)

These questions are followed by these pastoral observations: "Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his 'I' ultimately for himself, without really rising above it. Yet only in self-giving does man find himself, and only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity."

The two other topics covered by the Holy Father in his speech were the New Evangelization and inter- religious dialogue. Towards the end of his brief reflection on the challenge of evangelization, saying that "the Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria," addresses the issue, practically forced by his earlier discussion of marriage, that of the relationship of the Church to the state: "In her dialogue with the state and with society, the Church does not, of course, have ready answers for individual questions. Along with other forces in society, she will wrestle for the answers that best correspond to the truth of the human condition. The values that she recognizes as fundamental and non-negotiable for the human condition she must propose with all clarity. She must do all she can to convince, and this can then stimulate political action."

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