Mercy From Rome
Previously published on March 21, 2010
While doing a conference in Denver many years ago, a vigorous young man introduced himself to me as Christopher West; he was then the ‘marriage and family’ guy for the Archdiocese of Denver. He loved our emphases on healing through the cross and community. And he wanted me to have a copy of John Paul II’s book The Theology of the Body, the late great pope’s sweeping take on human sexuality.
Wow. What a meal. For the next couple of years, I slowly ate what I now regard as perhaps the most thorough and profound theological work on sexuality. It is a large meal, but not inaccessible. It undergirds the pope’s native compassion with truth: the truth of what our sexuality is for, not just what we should flee, and the deeper meaning of masculine and feminine communion in the divine plan.
Brilliant and relevant, prophetic and yet deeply, richly human, it reinforced what I knew but deepened and expanded the truths already gleaned from Ray Anderson, Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner. On planes and trains I would read a section and take notes on it. I would then meditate on the notes before tackling another section.
It prepared me for the battle at hand, the fight for God’s image in humanity being waged on every continent. In that battle, I needed reinforcement.
Frankly, I was disappointed by my Protestant brothers and sisters who held to the truth of God’s plan for human sexuality but often failed to uphold it in their dealings with those bound by sin. In essence, I witnessed many capitulating to the culture in the name of ‘compassion.’
Seeking to include all, their salt loses its savor. Yet what meaning does mercy have unless we can name our sin? What meaning does ‘life’ have when we can no longer feel the sting of the culture of death? Nowhere is that loss of clarity and conscience more apparent than in the realm of sexuality.
John Paul shamed death by upholding a powerfully biblical and communal vision of life in the body—yours, mine, ours. He sanctified that desire to offer ourselves to others, while wrestling with the challenge to do so in our fallen ‘frames’.
Such vision and foresight is why the Roman Catholic Church is the major force to be reckoned with in our world of abortion, ‘gay marriage’ and adoptions, and no-fault divorce. Catholic thinkers have continued to sharpen their moral and theological sword and have aimed it at forces seeking to diminish God’s image in humanity. They know they have a responsibility to God’s whole creation; Rome takes that task seriously.
And that is why Archbishop Chaput can take this stand with integrity, as he did recently in a dispute concerning the rights of two lesbians and their adopted child:
‘The Church does not claim that people with a homosexual orientation are bad or that their children are less loved by God. Quite the opposite. But what the Church does teach is that sexual intimacy by anyone outside of marriage is wrong; that marriage is a sacramental covenant; and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman…The Church cannot change these teachings because they are the teachings of Jesus Christ.’
Powerful. Clear. Upholding the dignity of all, regardless of their choices, yet unbending in regard to what is true and right for all.
Many years after first meeting Christopher West, I had the privilege of attending one of his seminars in which he exposits with flair the teachings of John Paul II. (West is actually the guy who has helped fan into flame the pope’s work on sexuality for today’s Roman Church.) I loved the entire week.
Buoyed by the expansive truths at hand—a renewed vision of man for woman, woman for man, Jesus for Church, Church for her Bridegroom King— I dreamed heavenly dreams for about two weeks after West’s class. The Spirit of truth and grace at the core of Theology of the Body brooded over me and granted me rest.
God gives us mercy through His Roman Church. She arms us to do His will.