Friday, 4 January 2013

It's all about love, isn't it

In the context of the new evangelisation, and the wish within that context to express a "primary proclamation" of the Gospel, I have more than once in the last couple of weeks or so heard Christmas described as the celebration of the coming of the love of God for humankind into the world.

At the same time, the debate about the attitude of Christian Churches towards those who experience same-sex attraction can be expressed in much the same terms. It is all about love, isn't it, and why should the love between a same-sex couple be treated any differently than the love between an opposite-sex couple?

The Church of England has got itself into a hopeless muddle on this last, being unable to offer a consistent witness of any kind: Church of England drops gay bishop opposition. It perhaps arises from a willingness to identify a person by a sexual orientation; the Catholic articulation recognises the attraction contained in the orientation but does not allow that it identifies a person. The Catholic Church in the UK seems to be moving to a resolution of its mixed witness, with the changes to the arrangements for Masses organised by the Soho Masses Pastoral Council: statement at the website of Westminster Archiocese. The exact working out of these changes is yet to be seen.

But what about that question of love? Pope Benedict XVI provides us with two key teachings that shed light on the meaning of the term, and enable us to answer the apparent contradiction contained in the first two paragraphs of this post.

In Part I of his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, he describes the relationship between love-as-eros and love-as-agape. This might be summarised as recognising that love-as-eros (as attraction or as an experience of a type of instinct) requires a process of purification if it is to become love-as-agape (as a chosen care for the other, a self-sacrifice for the other). And in the opening paragraphs of the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, the Holy Father gives an account of the relation of charity to truth, and its dependence on truth.
Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth. In this way, not only do we do a service to charity enlightened by truth, but we also help give credibility to truth, demonstrating its persuasive and authenticating power in the practical setting of social living. This is a matter of no small account today, in a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to it and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence.
And so there is no contradiction in characterising Christmas as the celebration of God's love for us and at the same time teaching that not every form of sexual attraction is one that can be licitly carried into practice in a morally upright life. It is the need for purification at the level of the individual behaviour and the relation to truth at the level of teaching that abolishes the contradiction.

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