[Christopher West's new book At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization is now featured at the Patheos Book Club.]
If you are in the loop on Catholic news and articles circulated on the Internet, by now you have probably come across Robert George's article "Danger and Opportunity: A Plea to Catholics." Therein George, a professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, calls all Catholics to get off their duffs (my expression) in order to transform our society and save our culture from suicide.
He writes, "There are many profound respects in which our culture is in need of transformation. ...There are two issues, however, that are so central to our future ... that they must, surely, be given a certain priority. Both are on the table now and will be resolved—for better or for worse—in the next decade or so. Critical (possibly irreversible) decision will be made in the next year or two."
What are these two crucial issues? Marriage and bioethical questions. "In respect of both matters," George maintains, "things will go one way or the other depending on the posture and actions of Catholics."
Why does he put so much weight on our shoulders? Because the Catholic Church alone has a vision of sexual love and the sanctity of life coherent enough to save the culture of death from, well ... death. "An alert and engaged Catholic community," says George, "would recognize that these issues are in our hands. We cannot do it by ourselves; but our allies cannot win without us, nor can they lose with us. Our activity ... will make the critical difference."
If Catholics are engaged on marriage and bioethical issues and are working closely with other people of good will "grave injustices and the erosion of central moral principles will be, to a significant extent, averted. ...If, on the other hand, the Catholic community compromises itself, abdicates its responsibilities, and sits on the sidelines," George predicts that "the already deeply wounded institution of marriage will collapse and the brave new world of biotechnology will transform procreation into manufacture, and nascent human life into mere disposable 'research material.'"
This brave new world is not far fetched. It's already well underway. Marriages are crumbling and human beings are already being manufactured in laboratories. How did we get here? In 1968, Pope Paul VI predicted it would happen. It would come, he foresaw, if society embraced contraception (see Humanae Vitae, n. 17).
Oh paalease ... Not that issue again! Why doesn't the Church just get over it and stay out of my bedroom!?
Well, not only the Church, but the entire world has a vested interest in what happens in our bedrooms. What happens there (or wherever else men and women are coupling) actually determines the world in which we live. When sex is oriented towards lasting love and life, it builds marriages that last and families that foster life. In turn, those families become the basic building blocks of a civilization of love and a culture of life.
The opposite is also true. When sex is oriented against lasting love and against life, the end result is that love doesn't last, families collapse, and human life erodes at its very foundation. The end result can only be a culture of death. Paul VI saw it coming. That in itself should cause us to want to give the oft maligned teaching of Humanae Vitae a closer look.
May I suggest John Paul II's "theology of the body" as a great place to start? Just google the term and you'll find lots of resources to help. John Paul himself said that the whole of his theology of the body—129 talks delivered over five years—constitutes "an extensive commentary on the doctrine contained precisely in Humanae Vitae" (TOB133:2).
Those who take up arms in this battle for the dignity of sexual love and human life will find themselves staring a mighty Goliath in the face. All that's needed to win, though, is a small stone and a sling. The stone is Christ. There is no other victory. And the sling that gives us the proper aim is John Paul II's theology of the body. Let's take it up, study it, and then get off our duffs and make a difference!
This article is reprinted from Christopher West's website.