the Pope’s message to the curia yesterday. The truth hurts, and I suffered when the Holy Father described the “crisis that threatens [the family] to its foundations.”
But then I finished Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal Son, and I saw a path from the pain.
The family, said Benedict, is “the authentic setting in which to hand on the blueprint of human existence. . . . This is something we learn by living it with others and suffering it with others.”
The family is not just a social construct; it is about the definition of man himself, what makes all of us “authentically human.” The family, the Pope said, demands commitment for a lifetime. Can one do this? “Does this correspond to man’s nature?”
Then came the F-word: “Does [this commitment] not contradict [man’s] freedom and the scope of his self-realization?”
Although a generation of liberals might answer yes, my heart and my experience cry no, a thousand times! My self-realization would have fallen pathetically short of its current so-so condition if I had not married and fathered two children. I recently visited a friend who fathered two children later in life, and his self-realization now—though he is older and, you might think, “burdened” with two sometimes obstreperous younger children—is a joy to behold. I was so proud of, so happy for him.
Benedict said: “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.” In other words, there’s self-realization and self-realization.
But is the Pope’s sort of self-realization for everyone? That is the question of the pro-choicers on the topic of gender. And then the Pope addressed gender, citing a non-Catholic authority:
“The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper.” Beyond the problem of freedom is the confusion brought by “the term gender as a new philosophy of sexuality.”
A summary of the Rabbi’s points, and so the Pope’s: Sex is no longer a gift of God; “it is a social role that we choose for ourselves.” This “profoundly false” theory has created an “anthropological revolution.” According to Catholic teaching and the natural sense of every traditional religion, God created man as male and female. But these “created realities . . . no longer exist.” (!!) “Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will.”
And here’s a thought to kick any environmentalist swept up in this anthropological revolution: “The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned.” Can you spell contradiction?
The Pope goes on and you can read the full talk. But by this point anyone not living in a home-schooled Catholic ghetto must be feeling a bit of the same terror and sadness I felt on reading this yesterday—because, at least where I live in New England, I am surrounded every day by a mob of such pro-environment, pro-choice, “gender-savvy” revolutionaries.
And it is a disaster. It is enough to make a father or mother despair. The only argument my “enlightened” neighbors will even listen to is, the data is not in yet. We have yet to observe the first generation raised in this brave new world. Check back when they are over fifty and (maybe? some of them?) are grandparents themselves.
Feeling this intense sadness, I crossed a bridge thrown up by Henri Nouwen.
I posted the painting previously, if you want to take a look.
To simplify-to-absurdity Nouwen’s final message—we are all the younger brother and the older brother, but ultimately we are all called to be the compassionate father in the painting—and Nouwen does broaden his message to include mothers, so please please don’t accuse me of gender bias!
We become the compassionate father by following three paths, of grief, forgiveness, and generosity. Briefly Nouwen:
On grief—“It might sound strange to consider grief a way to compassion. But it is. Grief asks me to allow the sins of the world—my own included—to pierce my heart and make me shed tears, many tears, for them. There is no compassion without many tears.”
On forgiveness—“Forgiveness from the heart is very difficult. It is next to impossible. . . . I have to climb over the wall of arguments and angry feelings that I have erected between myself and all those whom I love but who so often do not return that love. It is a wall of fear . . . It is a wall of pride.”
On generosity—“There is nothing the father keeps for himself. He pours himself out for his sons. . . . Just as the Father gives his very self to his children, so must I give my very self to my brothers and sisters. . . . As children of the light, we prepare ourselves to become true martyrs: people who witness with their whole lives to the unlimited love of God.”
There is no other way, then, for me than through fatherhood—not only to my own children and perhaps someday grandchildren but to the whole crazy mixed-up world in which I live.
The Pope said yesterday: “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” [my emphasis].
We Christians probably will have to suffer more before this revolution has swept past. God make it open our hearts—in grief, forgiveness, and generosity!