Friday, September 8, 2017

Commentary on Sunday's Roman's reading

<snip> First, we need to remember that sin is a lack of love.  Ultimately, the popular sins of our society, which tend to be sexual in nature, are failures of love, failures to act in others’ best interest and to treat them with their full dignity as persons.  Masturbation, pornography, cohabitation, divorce, homosexual practice, contraception, abortion are acts of non-love, even if we mistakenly think, in the moment, that we are “loving” someone by committing or condoning one of these acts.

There is a common error, widespread in the contemporary Church, that love or mercy override the moral law.  This misunderstanding arises from a misreading of some things that St. Paul says in his epistles, in places where he contrasts "law" and "faith", for example.  The problem is, in most of these cases St. Paul means "the Old Testament Law" or the "Old Covenant" when he speaks of the "Law"; and "faith" means "faith in Christ" or simply "the New Covenant."  Now, the Old Law of the Old Covenant was not always loving.  Because of the "hardness of heart" of Israel, Moses permitted some things that were contrary to love.  For example, he permitted men to divorce their wives, even though this was contrary to love (Deut 24:1-4).  Jesus removed all these concessions that Moses introduced into the law of the covenant people in the Sermon on the Mount.  So Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him write her a certificate of divorce,' but I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for porneia, causes her to commit adultery ...."  What happens in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), then, is that Jesus realigns law with love in the New Covenant, such that the moral teaching of Jesus (and by extension the Church) is never contrary to love.  Thus, for Christians, we can never say, "The right thing to do is X, but the loving thing to do is Y."  Nor can we ever say, "The moral thing to do is X, but the loving thing to do is Y."  Christian morality, or "the moral law", always follows love, and vice-versa.   If we think that there is a conflict between what is right and what is loving, either (1) we have misunderstood the nature of what is right, i.e. morality, or (2) we have misunderstood the nature of love.

Love has an objective aspect.  It has to be based on truth. It’s not just a subjective feeling.  You may really like someone, but if you mistakenly give them poison rather than medicine, your act is not objectively loving.  Society has completely lost sight of this fact.  Love is now confused with “niceness,” with complying with whatever a person wants. And Christians are viewed as unloving when they will not condone or cooperate with or agree to the delusions or falsehoods that some people in society want to insist upon. The Catechism is actually quite good about how the moral law follows love and vice-versa, and in its treatment of offenses against the Ten Commandments, it explains why different sins are actually a failure of love.

Secondly, a rebuke, when made with a correct intention, is also an act of love.  It is not loving to overlook the fact that people are in sin.  Of course, it is also quite possible to rebuke people out of arrogance and self-righteousness.  And, sometimes, we may have a right intention in offering a rebuke, and nonetheless be perceived as arrogant, which is painful.  Sometimes we want to avoid the risk of being perceived as self-righteous, so we avoid confronting others in love.  Sometimes our failure to rebuke is motivated by self-love.  We want to avoid the pain of possibly being rejected.  Truth and authenticity are sacrificed for the sake of social comfort.  If Pope Francis had shrunk from speaking clearly about chastity to young people in his address quoted above, he would have been failed to love them, because love tells the truth and points people toward goodness and beauty, not merely pleasure and physical comfort. <snip>

Dr. John Bergsma

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