Of math and man

Those who follow the news — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — understand that something is taking place in Rome, something to do with Marriage. While synods are not that uncommon in the life of the Church, many have the impression that something extraordinary is happening, and that what the Church teaches may actually change. This is because — we are told — the Church has finally realized that its doctrine is unlivable. Men and women cannot be expected to conform to the Catholic prescriptions of chastity and fidelity. They are simply too demanding.

What are those doctrines that are so challenging? The Church teaches — and has always taught — that one reserves sexual intimacy for Marriage, and that once married one stays married. Our grandmothers would have been distressed to know that these ideas were controversial, so the question must be: “What has changed in the 50 years since our grandmothers’ generation?”

In a nutshell, the sexual revolution wreaked its havoc on the world, making intimacy sterile and vows hollow. The ability to separate sex from babies shifted the fundamental meaning of the sexual embrace from a commitment with consequences to a frivolous pastime. Après ça, le deluge.

From that initial question, two follow. The first is, “Are these changes for the good?” Any mere glance at the sociological data in the last 30 years would indicate a firm no. Divorce rates have skyrocketed, sexually-transmitted diseases have multiplied, abortions have proliferated, fatherless children are ubiquitous, and the promiscuity trends among children are shocking. While there is a single-mindedness among those who separate the actions of any individual from the wider drift of culture, prudent people cannot ignore the connections in these affairs. Those who care about children must acknowledge that their lives do not benefit from the disintegration of the family that has accrued in the last 50 years.

The second question is, “Should the Church follow the trajectory of the world?” This is where most of the confusion lies, because the population that has become accustomed to current trends has no collective memory of another way of life. In the 1992 court case, “Planned Parenthood vs. Casey,” the decision given noted that people “for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.” Although Catholics have cause to deplore the decision, which rejected various proposed restrictions on abortion, the ruling indeed distilled the fundamental mindset of our age: sterile, uncommitted intimacy is sacrosanct. 

Scripture makes clear that the Church cannot bow to secular conventions, as St. Paul cautioned: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Rom 12:2) or as Chesterton pithily remarked, “Those who marry the Spirit of this age will find themselves widows in the next.” So what do we do for a generation that insists that Church teaching is too demanding, uncharitable, and unlivable? We reject capitulation and insist on that transformation which makes all things possible. 

Just as a parent doesn’t coddle a child who finds algebra “impossibly hard,” the Church should lovingly but firmly explain the foundational principles that make authentic chastity entirely possible. Just as reviewing the groundwork for equations — the nature of constants and variables — prepares a student for success in math, reminding the faithful about Divinely revealed truth and God’s passionate love for humanity will allow them to “renew their minds” according to His purpose. And in that equation, while there is nothing so variable as the whims of man to live in a world of his own making, there is nothing so constant as Divine grace which restores him to reality, drawing him back to the love that will set him free. 

Anchor columnist Mrs. Kineke is the author of “The Authentic Catholic Woman.” She blogs at feminine-genius.typepad.com.

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