Can We Trust Natural Law?

zygoteFrMichael and Crystal have been going at it in the thread connected to “Another Fired Employee.” I don’t have a background in philosophy as such, so I don’t feel as qualified to talk about natural law and how it could or should be applied to Christian theology. My concerns are more practical, and possibly more grounded in the scientific/rational truth of the created universe. If God made gays, and God persists in allowing same-sex-attracted people to seek and desire companionship, perhaps it is our understanding of tradition that is flawed.

Or more directly, if we consider a person a sinner, is it necessary to fire the person? Clearly, some people may be kept in office for faults and offenses that actually contribute to people leaving the active rolls of the Church. What about all who give scandal, not just those who act out sexually?

Let’s turn back to Natural Law. Can we apply a hermeneutic of skepticism, and still be within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy? What does Natural Law mean, anyway?

The online Catholic Encyclopedia has an entry, which reads in part:

In English this term is frequently employed as equivalent to the laws of nature, meaning the order which governs the activities of the material universe. Among the Roman jurists natural law designated those instincts and emotions common to man and the lower animals, such as the instinct of self-preservation and love of offspring. In its strictly ethical application—the sense in which this article treats it—the natural law is the rule of conduct which is prescribed to us by the Creator in the constitution of the nature with which He has endowed us.

According to St. Thomas, the natural law is “nothing else than the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law” (I-II.94).

Is the Natural Law “skepticism” of same-sex commitments in keeping with how God created everybody? In other words, does majority rule? And can we be skeptical of taking a pattern found in the majority (or even the ruling male class) and applying it to all cases?

I reviewed Veritatis Splendor 46-50, as FrMichael suggested. Saint John Paul II’s definition:

(Natural Law) refers to (humankind’s) proper and primordial nature, the “nature of the human person”,89 which is the person (her/)himself in the unity of soul and body, in the unity of his (or her) spiritual and biological inclinations and of all the other specific characteristics necessary for the pursuit of his (or her) end.

Can I remain a skeptic? If God has made a small minority of human beings with same-sex attraction, and if he hasn’t gifted all of them with the same or similar charism of celibacy he has given those called to a particular form of religious life, are gays and lesbians not exploring the spiritual and biological unity involved with the human desire and need for companionship?

St John Paul makes an argument for his opponents in terms of what some would call a desire for a wider (or absolute) freedom of self-determination. I’m not sure I would argue that stance as forcefully as he attributes it to the hermeneutic of skepticism. I suppose I’m more interested in a chipping away at an aspect that doesn’t seem to fit most classic definitions of Natural Law. And to be sure, sexual orientation is not at the core of either Christian creed or moral theology.

I think we can’t discount biology. Are people created SSA from the beginning? If so, let’s explore that openly. But let’s not take the pattern of the heterosexual as a starting point. We can’t do that any more than we can consider a woman as a female man.

At this point, I will turn it over to the philosophers in the commentariat, sit back, and read  carefully.

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DPPL 58: Two Expressions

STA altar at night smallAs we near the end of the DPPL’s account of Vatican II, an endorsement of the both/and approach:

58. The Liturgy and popular piety, while not conterminous, remain two legitimate expressions of Christian worship. While not opposed to each other, neither are they to be regarded a equiparate to each other. Rather, they are to be seen in harmony with each in accordance with the Council’s liturgical constitution: “The popular devotions of the
Christian people [...] should accord with the sacred Liturgy…[and] in some way derive from it, and lead people to it, since in fact the Liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them”(SC 13).

An example of the optimism of the conciliar period, that the Mass and sacraments would somehow move center-stage in the spiritual lives of the people of the Church. As an example, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, in 1979’s Puebla Conference, add their particular desire for liturgy to be the main “reference point” in the examination of popular piety:

Hence, the Liturgy and popular piety are two forms of worship which are in mutual and fruitful relationship with each other. In this relationship, however, the Liturgy remains the primary reference point so as “clearly and prudently to channel the yearnings of prayer and the charismatic life”(III Conferencia General del Episcopado Latino-Americano, Puebla Document 465 e) which are found in popular piety. For its part, popular piety, because of its symbolic and expressive qualities, can often provide the Liturgy with important insights for inculturation and stimulate an effective dynamic creativity(Puebla Document 465e).

The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.

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Aparecida 76 – Democracy and Social Justice

International financial institutions often place conditions on aid or loans, including “structural adjustments” that at times demand the privatization of public services, the removal of subsidies for basic needs, as well as other conditions that weaken the states’ role in providing for basic needs and assuring human rights.

The bishops do not see state intervention as an evil, but as important for the implementation of social justice in their countries. Therefore, many have seen the “structural adjustments” as impediments to justice.

In paragraph 76, they note that

After a period in which States apparatus were weakened by the application of structural adjustments in the economy proposed by international financial agencies, currently there is a notable effort by States to enact and implement public policies in areas of health, education, food security, social security, access to land and housing, effective improvement of the economy to create jobs and laws encouraging community support organizations.

The bishops support public policies in areas that are essential for a just livelihood for the poor – including health, education, social security, and access to land. They also support efforts that affect the creation of jobs as well as “laws encouraging community support organizations.” The Spanish text reads “leyes que favorecen las organizaciones solidarias” which, I think, would better be translated as “law that promote/favor organizations that work together in solidarity.” I believe this would therefore include groups like labor unions, organizations of women, human rights groups.

This paragraph ends with a reference to paragraph 56 of Ecclesia en America (The Church in America), which includes a list of social sins. This document was Pope John Paul II’s 1999 exhortation after the Synod of the Church in the Americas.

Again they insist that democracy must include respect for values, such as social justice:

All this indicates that there cannot be true and stable democracy without social justice, without real separation of powers, and unless the rule of law is upheld.

Note the insistence on the separation of powers and the rule of law.

Here is an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Swans Grounded

My wife and I were away at a marriage workshop most of the day. We left the house even before the first EPL match kicked off this morning.Black_Swan_and_Cygnet

So I caught the Swansea-Chelsea tussle on replay at NBC live extra. It was pretty for the first twenty-four minutes. But like I’ve seen from Chelsea in their other matches this season, they seem to just flip on a switch and suddenly, they’re unbeatable. I was in dread from about the 25th minute on, and eventually the Swans cracked. At times they looked rattled, even like the little cygnet to the right there.

Chelsea played thirteen minutes in their first match against Burnley and won 3-1. I thought they were soft defending against Everton, but when you’re outscoring the opposition by a two-to-one margin, maybe you don’t care how many you let in.

Swans missed a few opportunities from their new striker Bafetimbi Gomis. One more goal was possible from him, I thought. At least Chelsea had to pressure the Swans and keep the juice going for most of the last three-fourths of the game.

With the Premier League off last weekend, I’ve had a diet of stateside soccer the past two weeks. I watched Seattle and Real Salt Lake last night. For their five years in MLS, the Sounders have been in the class of North America, but I don’t think they could compete with Swansea, let alone Chelsea. Premier League passing is more crisp. The 3rd/4th through 11th best players on an EPL squad are the difference, it seems to me. Last night’s MLS game was a little more choppy. Not nearly as fast. Ah well.

That said, the atmosphere to watch a match in Seattle must be awesome. Over 40k fans there–more people than most English venues. Why MLS didn’t plant in Seattle from the start, I can’t figure. Seattle supported their Sounders in the 70’s. They clearly have the most attendance support in North America.

We’ll see how long I can keep from tuning in to scoreboards and websites and see if I can’t pick up another match or two before I peek at the scores. Arsenal/Man City was the early game. Maybe I’ll pick that up before I go to bed tonight.


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Nuptial Acclamation

I saw this link on Rocco’s Twitter feed about the use of the Sunday feast’s readings for Pope Francis’ “Nuptial” Mass. I don’t have a problem with that: a focus on Christ, the Cross, and his sacrifice is very apt for a wedding occasion. In the hands of a good preacher, I’m sure the connections will be thoughtful.

On page 27 of the worship aid, I noticed a musical acclamation following the Nuptial Blessing.

Il cantore:
Benediciamo il Signore

A lui onore e gloria nei secoli

The invocation to bless the Lord as a response to the blessing of the couples. Much more fitting than unity candle romantic songs, I suppose.

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DPPL 56-57: Cautions on Piety

STA altar at night smallA lack of trust in the liturgy has potential consequences:

56. Theoretical or practical contempt for the Liturgy inevitably leads to a clouding of the Christian understanding of the mystery of God, Who has mercifully deigned to look down on fallen (humankind) and bring (us) to Himself through the incarnation of His Son and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Such fails to perceive the significance of salvation history and the relationship between Old and New Testaments. It underestimates the saving Word of God which sustains the Liturgy, and to which the Liturgy always refers. Such a disposition attenuates in the faithful any realization of the importance of the work of Christ our only Savior who is the Son of God and the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Eventually, it leads to a loss of the sensus Ecclesiae.

My sense is that most people attached to the devotional life to the exclusion of the liturgy have more personal and less theological reasons for being as they are. But these cautions in DPPL 56 are well-considered, especially the potential impoverishment of a grounding in the Bible or a proper focus on Christ as the center of Christian faith.

More cautions, including from the CDF:

57. Any exclusive promotion of popular piety, which should always be seen in terms of the Christian faith (Cf. DCCL 9), can encourage a process that eventually leads the faithful away from Christian revelation and encourages the undue or distorted use of elements drawn from cosmic or natural religions. It can also give rise to the introduction into Christian worship of elements taken from pre-Christian beliefs, or that are merely cultural, national or ethnic psychological expressions. Likewise, the illusion can be created that the transcendent can be reached through unpurified religious experiences (Cf. CDF, Lettera “Orationis forma” ai Vescovi della Chiesa cattolica su alcuni aspetti della meditazione cristiana (15.10.1989): AAS 82 (1990) 362-379), thereby promoting the notion that salvation can be achieved through (one’s) own personal efforts (the constant danger of pelagianism should never be forgotten), thereby compromising any authentic Christian understanding of salvation as a gratuitous gift of God. Indeed, the role of secondary mediators, such as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Angels and Saints, or even national saints, can surpass that of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one Mediator, in the minds of the faithful.

That last note about perspective is worthwhile to recall: Christ is the supreme mediator. The liturgy, when celebrated well, communicates that we can indeed go to Christ, and there foster the personal relationship that enables grace to work at its fullest.

The full document, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, is online at the Vatican site.

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One Bishop’s Reflections, Pre-Synod

Rocco whispered this on his Twitter feed today. I appreciated Belgian bishop Johan Bonny’s long, but worthwhile essay containing his reflections and hopes for the upcoming synod. It struck me as balanced, pastoral, and thoughtful. Well worth reading. It gave me great hope–something that’s been missing for me the past few days.

Two pieces worth looking at, even if you do not read the whole piece. “This discord cannot continue” on page 3. Bishop Bonny’s reflections on Church as traveling companion were particularly poignant.

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