Sunday, July 5, 2009

Vatican Moral Theologian on Theology of the Body

Fr. Maurizio Faggioni on Christopher West/Theology of the Body dust up:

In a conversation with CNA, Fr. Faggioni explained that some of the issues discussed publicly by West, such as the appropriateness of anal sex or other forms of sexual “foreplay” in married relationships, have to be dealt with using great care, since “the risk is of displacing the attention from marital love and the anthropologic meaning of lovely gestures to merely the genital aspects.”

“Sexuality,” Fr. Faggioni said, launching into his analysis West's presentation of the Theology of the Body, “is the language of love and this language is authentic only when it is respectful of the meaning of human love.”

According to the moral theologian, “the traditional moral theology certainly does not prohibit intimacy among spouses, but it never regards them as a substitute for the marital embrace and accepts intimacy only as a path toward a complete sexual union.”

Moreover, Fr. Faggioni said that “it is simply not true that the traditional Catholic moral supports the use of acts that Thomas Aquinas call contra naturam -against nature- (such as anal sex) as something ordinary.”

“When we make these types of assertions in an indiscriminate manner, we are actually getting into the beds of married couples, and that is something the moral teaching of the Church does not encourage at all.”

While love and lust have a symbiotic relationship, keeping the fire of sexuality centered around the heart is the fruit of mutual devotion to the continuous stoking healthy emotional intimacy.

Powerful sexuality is sexuality driven by the heart. The power of sexuality wanes when the interests of the couple get too distracted from each other. As time marches on in relationships, instead of the servitude of mutually responding to the beloved's intellectual, emotional and physical needs -the house, the children, the shopping, the work, the friends, the gym, the golf, the blog, or whatever have you - steals the attention away. The sexuality that used to be a call from the heart and the emotions - starts to be a calling from the genitals. Genitoerotocism starts to take the place of the hard work of mutual devotion to each others intellectual, emotional and physical needs.

While the Catholic Church excuses itself in defining any sexuality between spouses as sinful, they have the instincts, wisdom and duty to say what things are imprudent and why. If you have to start spicing up your sexuality with kink, you've got intimacy problems that are a result of attention deficit disorder of the heart.

I really didn't follow this kerfuffle closely enough to say what was blown out of proportion (and things West said were definitely taken out of context and blown up), my understanding was that, among other things, the "blessing of the genitals" soundbyte was taken out of context. Just the same, Father addresses it:

Regarding the practice of blessing the genitals before a sexual relationship, Fr. Faggioni expressed “real perplexity.” “Without doubt, all the body in each one of its parts is God’s creation and deserves honor. We precisely respect our private parts by surrounding them with greater respect and modesty.”

“In itself,” he continued, “nothing forbids thanking God for the sexual body of oneself or the spouse, but from the perspective of Christian anthropology, it is not right to emphasize the genitals as if our sexuality could be reduced to them.

“Love is made with all the body, with the entire person’s humanity, not only with the genitals.”

The beauty of the genitals is that they're usually with you during the Sacrament of Marriage, they're with you during the Sacrament of Confession, the Sacrament of Holy Communion. There is no higher blessing than a petition within the context of a Sacrament. They're part of the whole body.

St. Paul knew what he was talking about when he spoke about the the respect and love that a husband needs to have for his wife and the submission of authority of a wife to her husband. When pride and lack of humility goes awry, a man won't subject himself to the wisdom of his wife in the matters of the heart and in the relationships between them, their children, their friends and in their lives in general. That is the downfall of many things. Men have a hard time surrendering their egos to it. Their responses are often combative and territorial and the fall out is a destructive force.

Prenuptual programs do a lackluster job in explaining the symbiosis of the heart and sexuality and the roles of a husband and wife in a marriage in the context of Catholic theology. Teaching it upporting it throughout a marriage is non-existent in the Church. It's dry, it's straightforward, it's theology but people have a hard time getting to the core of how it plays out in their lives and where the benchmarks are when things go awry. While his theology got derailed a bit and onto genitoeroticism, I believe West has his finger on the pulse of the omissions.

The Pope has a beautiful explanation of the Letters to the Ephisians and Collosians here.

Then there is also a special concept which is typical of these two Letters, and it is the concept of "mystery". The "mystery of [God's] will" is mentioned once (Eph 1: 9) and, other times, as the "mystery of Christ" (Eph 3: 4; Col 4: 3) or even as "God's mystery, of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2: 2-3). This refers to God's inscrutable plan for the destiny of mankind, of peoples and of the world. With this language the two Epistles tell us that the fulfilment of this mystery is found in Christ. If we are with Christ, even if our minds are incapable of grasping everything, we know that we have penetrated the nucleus of this "mystery" and are on the way to the truth. It is he in his totality and not only in one aspect of his Person or at one moment of his existence who bears within him the fullness of the unfathomable divine plan of salvation. In him what is called "the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph 3: 10) takes shape, for in him "the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2: 9). From this point on, therefore, it is not possible to reflect on and worship God's will, his sovereign instruction, without comparing ourselves personally with Christ in Person, in whom that "mystery" is incarnate and may be tangibly perceived. Thus one arrives at contemplation of the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3: 8) which are beyond any human understanding. It is not that God did not leave footprints on his journey, for Christ himself is God's impression, his greatest footprint; but we realize "what is the breadth and length and height and depth" of this mystery "which surpasses knowledge" (Eph 3: 18-19). Mere intellectual categories prove inadequate here, and, recognizing that many things are beyond our rational capacities, we must entrust them to the humble and joyful contemplation not only of the mind but also of the heart. The Fathers of the Church, moreover, tell us that love understands better than reason alone.

A last word must be said on the concept, already mentioned above, of the Church as the spousal partner of Christ. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul had compared the Christian community to a bride, writing thus: "I feel a divine jealousy for you", for I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband" (11: 2). The Letter to the Ephesians develops this image, explaining that the Church is not only a betrothed bride, but the real bride of Christ. He has won her, so to speak, and has done so at the cost of his life: as the text says, he "gave himself up for her" (Eph 5: 25). What demonstration of love could be greater than this? But in addition, he was concerned about her beauty: not only the beauty already acquired through Baptism, but also that beauty "without stain or wrinkle" that is due to an irreproachable life which must grow in her moral conduct every day (cf. Eph 5: 26-27). It is a short step from here to the common experience of Christian marriage; indeed, it is not even very clear what the initial reference point of the Letter was for its author: whether it was the Christ-Church relationship, in whose light the union of the man and woman should be seen, or whether it was the experiential event of conjugal union, in whose light should be seen the relationship between Christ and the Church. But both aspects illuminate each other reciprocally: we learn what marriage is in the light of the communion of Christ and the Church, we learn how Christ is united to us in thinking of the mystery of matrimony. In any case, our Letter presents itself as nearly a middle road between the Prophet Hosea, who expressed the relationship between God and his people in terms of the wedding that had already taken place (cf. Hos 2: 4, 16, 20), and the Seer of the Apocalypse, who was to propose the eschatological encounter between the Church and the Lamb as a joyful and indefectible wedding (cf. Rv 19: 7-9; 21: 9).

No comments: