Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Heavenly bodies

The pope's new encyclical doesn't break any new ground, but there isn't much in it that will upset people, I think, and it has a couple of nice bits, notably about the connection between the eucharist and concrete acts of service.

But I still think B16 makes the usual clerical mistake when talking about sex and sexuality, namely, making it more than in it really is: "Amid this multiplicity of meanings [of the word love], however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison."

"All other loves fade"? Mother and child? A pastor for God's people? God's love for us? What about unmarried people? Celibates? "Body and soul inseparably joined"? "Inseparably"? Doesn't describe most of the marriages I know--the body part at least.

Setting aside the fact that only one model of committed human relationship (heterosexual marriage) merits mention, I guess I don't get making one kind of human love "better" than any other. The mystery of love needs all kinds of expression for us to really grasp it. My life would be impoverished indeed if I didn't experience love in its many facets: from a partner, from parents, from family, from friends, from colleagues--all reflecting God's love for all of us.

And another thing: Here's a perfect example of why it makes sense to ask people who actually have sex about their lives before issuing a document about erotic love. If you did ask us, we'd probably tell you that the heart of our relationships is not sex but closer to taking out the trash and making dinner--that is, the day-to-day of life together, none of which by itself rises to the ecstasy of orgasmic mysticism but taken as a whole is a sign of God's fidelity to creation.

To his credit though, Benedict acknowledged earlier in the week the criticism that when it comes to sex the bishops are like "blind men explaining colors." Well, kind of. It's not that you don't have anything to offer, it's just that we do, too. Wouldn't you like to ask us what we think?


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